Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Fairness" or foolishness?

According to today's NZ Herald,

Mr Maharey - made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit - has a concrete reminder of the measure he considers his greatest achievement during his 18 years in Parliament (nine of them in Cabinet).

In a frame on the wall of his new office is the law - complete with the Governor-General's signature - that introduced Working for Families, a gift from staff at the Ministry of Social Development. "It's not just a piece of legislation," Mr Maharey says. "It represents to me the high point trying to address that issue of fairness. That's what I was in politics for."

This is a politician whose idea of fairness rests on what he and his colleagues decide it is. In other words fairness is an arbitrary line drawn subjectively, not according to any principle of property rights or individual rights.

Under Working For Families it is considered fair to take the fruit of one individual's efforts and give it to another deemed more worthy or deserving.

My definition of fairness (as described in the Concise Oxford Dictionary) is " just, unbiased, equitable, legitimate, in accordance with rules."

Only the last requirement is met because the rules are set by those who do not understand the preceding.

But even putting aside matters people with different philosophies will argue about, WFF will ultimately have negative effects due to the inherent distorted incentives. It will reduce productivity, entrepreneurship and personal responsibility. Is that 'fairness' or foolishness?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Science and Steve Maharey

Kiwiblog has drawn my attention to a post by Steve Maharey, former Minister for Social Development, at The Pundit. He writes about the looming ETS select committee hearing;

Evidence from competing points of view will be heard by New Zealand’s elected representatives. This evidence is to be treated equally. Public officials will be asked if they have been impartial. Those who advance the position that human activity is contributing to climate change are to be set against those who oppose this view – as if they are equals.

Of course they are not. The overwhelming view of the science community is for the former view. A tiny minority oppose this view. They may be right – minority views can be right – but in this instance they will have to work very hard if they are to be taken seriously given the depth of the evidence they are seeking to question.

It is a little like asking for a committee to be set up on the evidence that smoking causes cancer and then treating all submissions equally. It would be funny if it were not so absurd.

Steve Maharey's idea of science is well captured by these words from 2003;

"I know of no social science that says the nuclear family is more successful than other kinds."

When it comes to science, Mr Maharey doesn't look very hard. And he is now Vice Chancellor of Massey. What chance critical thinking?

On columnists

There are not many I read. But two have come to my attention this morning, both with exceptional pieces albeit very different in subject and style.

What is the NZ Herald thinking of letting Colin James go? Are we, the-readers-with-more-than-fluff-between-our-ears, of such little consequence? Just as the Dominion Post made the indefensible botch up of sacking Michael Bassett, the Herald seems oblivious to the vast political knowledge and perspicacity of thought possessed by the endangered likes of these two writers. Ah, but the past is not important. Perhaps James inadvertently confirmed his own apparent redundancy by touching on this phenomenon today. Then again, perhaps that is why we go on and on doing what doesn't work. Because we refuse to listen to - or have a dumbed-down media preventing us from listening to - those who have seen it all before.

I understand Mr James will continue writing his thought-provoking pieces. I have always subscribed to them directly anyway so bugger the Herald. You can too ( subscribe that is) by e-mailing

The second columnist, who helped dissipate - slightly - the anger I am feeling towards the Herald (a letter to the editor may also assist) is Jeremy Clarkson, who has written a hilariously rude piece of advice for street retailers. Brilliant.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The evolution of language

Yet another case of child murder where the alleged perpetrator is a beneficiary. According to the NZ Herald,

The arrested man, a beneficiary, will also face a number of drug-related charges.

Somebody has to say what we all think, " No surprises there."

The term 'beneficiary basher' has developed quite an ambiguous meaning. In an ironic twist, those who coined the term were apologists for lifestyle beneficiaries, the literal bashers. But it was never enough to deter those of us who could see the overlap between welfare dependence and violence widening and worsening.

How awful that our support, voluntary or otherwise, for supposed 'need', enables the sort of circumstances to develop whereby children are now, as Deborah Coddington points out today, at greater risk of death through violence than prostitutes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Xmas Card

The birth of my oldest son triggered off artistic attempts to capture his image on paper. That was 14 years ago. The same year I decided to use one of my paintings to create a Xmas card. Being something of a traditionalist I have always loved receiving cards but I thought it would be useful to create something unique and also keep people up to date with events when sending them. Ever since my cards have featured paintings of the children or our animals. I have one friend who tells me she has kept every single one.

Naturally the newly-adopted failed farm dog had to be the subject this year so I thought it would be good to depict her in a typical pose in our typical environment. Lately I have taken to photographing the sketch or painting as it develops. Might come in handy one day. A 'how to' book perhaps.... so many ideas.... too little time.

This was the result.

Oh, and I was thinking about something I heard the other day. Had been walking the steep hills behind Eastbourne with Robert and I was listening on my walkman to Justin Du Fresne close his last show of the year. It was a glorious day and I was taking in the harbour below. Justin was reading Desiderata to some ethereal music. Ave Maria perhaps. I have heard it before but this time one line jumped out at me.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Amen to that.

To you and yours, Merry Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

S59 and Sweden

I responded to a DomPost published proponent of the S59 legislation which triggered a further response.

Dear Editor

Tom Radley (Letters, December 19) writes that Sweden, "... has taken a far higher number of immigrants relative to its population than has New Zealand." Many, he says, come from countries where violence against children is acceptable, hence Sweden's ongoing problem with child abuse despite smacking being banned in 1979.

In 2007, of the children who began receiving care and protection services in Sweden that year, almost two thirds had one or both parents born in that country.

The problem of child abuse and neglect is not confined to Sweden's immigrant population which is, by the way, proportionately much smaller than New Zealand's.

Lindsay Mitchell

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's not about more money for chrissakes

The Press reports, Parliamentarians will form a group to combat child abuse as a new report shows it costs the country about $2 billion a year.

Well whoopty do.

This is typical modus operandi of the left. A lobby group commissions a report to show how much some form of dysfunction is costing society. Then they use that cost to lobby for more money to be spent trying to reduce it.

Child abuse is apparently costing $2 billion. Infometrics is a credible outfit so I don't doubt the figure they have arrived at.

The report recommends a $1b trust be set up from which private and public groups can apply for money to do innovative child-abuse prevention work.

This assumes that we should simply continue to encourage the creation of at-risk children through unpartnered and, under critical analysis, unwanted childbirth. After which we should pour rescources into intensive monitoring and guidance of mothers who aren't ready to be mothers.

This is how it works. These girls - and older women who started on this pathway years earlier - have all these talking heads coming into their homes telling them 'how' and then going away. But nothing happens. Just as people had previously told them they had to go to school, they didn't and nothing could be done about it.

The best hope for change is that a volunteer goes in, rolls up their sleeves and works alongside them. You can't help get someone's life on track until their physical environment is liveable and healthy for the child. It takes a fair bit of nose-pegging and good humour to get through just that process. Paid social workers , community nurses, plunket nurses, etc don't fulfil this role and neither should they. Hence there is a limit to what paid workers can achieve. A very low limit.

Yet people like Deborah Morris Travers, the lobbyist who commissioned the report, cling to this belief that it's all about a lack of money. That saves them actually confronting the truth. That the only way to help people live better is to get in there and show them how. It's about finding time, having goodwill and hope. That's how to deal with the current crop.

Then we stop growing more. Take away the cash incentive. For goodness sake. The last thing we should do is up it, which is Ms Morris Travers other big idea.

I am so weary of this grand self-deception and grand gesture. Another cross party committee is going to make not a blind bit of difference. It could even make matters worse.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Birthday to us

I have just realised today is the third birthday of my blog. I have never not wanted to keep blogging. But I do struggle with some bitches about blogging periodically. Surly and manic anonymous comments always irritate but are more than made up for by considered and clever anonymous comments. I wouldn't want to restrict commenters and touch wood, so far I haven't had to. Thank you all, self-identifying or otherwise, for keeping on reading and responding.

The impetus for this blog is conviction that a radical rethink of welfare is critical. I am even more committed to that idea than I was three years ago.

Minister must stick to her guns

Media Release

Friday, 19 December, 2008

The Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett, has welcomed the Human Rights Tribunal finding against the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) claim that children of beneficiaries are discriminated against because their parents do not receive the In Work tax credit.

Welfare Commentator , Lindsay Mitchell, noted however that the Associate Minister of Social Development, Tariana Turia, may not join in celebrating the good sense the Human Rights Tribunal has shown. "The Maori Party strongly supported the action of the CPAG. Many children of beneficiaries are Maori and the DPB is an integral part of the Maori community, " she said today.

"Fortunately Ms Bennett is able to grasp the bigger picture and appreciate that preserving an incentive for parents to work, which is in the long term best interests of children, is vital. As the CPAG is now seeking a meeting with the government to plead its case directly, it is to be hoped that they do not aim to play one minister off against the other."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Beneficiaries are not entitled to In Work payment

The title of this post seems to be a statement that goes without saying. Yet the Child Poverty Action Group has fought a protracted battle with the government to have this overturned because it 'discriminates against the children of beneficiaries'. They want people who do not work to receive an in-work tax credit.

I am very pleased and relieved that the ruling has gone against the CPAG. So is the Minister of Social Development. Her Associate Minister, Tariana Turia, will not be. The Maori Party publicly backed the CPAG action.

These are my earlier arguments against those of the CPAG;

If the CPAG win, essentially we will see an increase in benefit levels. An increase in benefit levels leads to an increase in the number of people going on or staying on benefits. CPAG want a short term gain and refuse to see the long term cost which cannot be in the best interests of children.

There is no guarantee the money reaches the children anyway.

And, most obviously, the incentive effect of the In-Work payment will be nullified if it is extended to non-working families.

The Greens and the Maori Party are supporting the CPAG.

Who is going to win? We have seen the Ministry of Social Development forced to settle out of court previously for discriminating against a single male parent who had full custody of a child (the mother had full custody of the other child/ren) by not allowing him to be on the DPB. But in this case, should the government lose, there would be a significant financial impact. Around $3-400 million more would be paid to parents on benefits. (From the beneficiaries point of view that's about a 14 percent pay rise.)

Beneficiaries already receive family support for each child. It varies according to age and ranges from $57 to $95 per week. Payments increased in April 2005 and April 2007. I wonder if I could take a case to the Human Rights Tribunal claiming discrimination because I do not receive these payments?

Or, more to the point, perhaps I should try discrimination on the grounds that I do not receive the In Work tax credit. The government has set arbitrary conditions on who receives them. The one that excludes me is an income test. The one that excludes beneficiaries is a work test. If the CPAG can get the work test removed perhaps I can get the income test removed.

UPDATE: A couple of months back I put out a media release about the CPAG being "at loggerheads with the OECD" on the matter of what strategy is most effective in reducing child poverty. I was pleased to read in the Dominion Post this morning that the government will be calling two representatives from the OECD as witnesses in its defence against the CPAG.

"Why men don't take messages"

(And I didn't know there was such a thing a pabst beer)

Survival of the fittest time

I bit the bullet yesterday and went Christmas shopping. Never before can I recall 8 shopping days THIS SIDE of Xmas Day, there being the sorts of offers currently available. I ended up spending what I had budgeted for but getting more than I planned.(I make this point because some figures show retail spending holding up against last year's. If buyers are getting more though, somewhere along the line someone is getting less. Profits must be down.) Two for one deals and 30% discounts are everywhere. And no, they are not offers on inflated prices.

But still the shops are not busy. We shopped till lunchtime and there were no queues, except at the Warehouse general counters, but they weren't long. And the CD, DVD counter, the one we usually use, had no queue at all. None of this augers well. I see Woolworths in the UK will close all its stores by January 5. There must be be a fair few NZ retailers sailing very close to the wind right now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kahui kidding himself

"It was a fully functioning household. We did the shopping, paid the bills and basically lived a normal life."

Chris Kahui about the home he and Macsyna King lived in.

This is true in his mind. It was a home like any other he had ever known and a home like many others in the neighbourhood. As a volunteer I go into homes that I couldn't live in as they are, but they are 'normal' within those communities of people. Being on welfare is normal, having Work and Income pay your bills is normal, living amongst clutter and grime is normal.

"Like it was said in court, only the primary caregiver could have noticed if something was wrong. My cousin April had changed the baby, she didn't notice anything and she's a grandmother to four kids."

Kahui is 23. His cousin is a grandmother four times over. Roll that around in your mind a while. That is a marker of prolific and very young breeding. But that's normal too.

Although Chris admits he didn't know Macsyna as well as he thought he did, what he saw was a good mother.

Good mothers do not abandon children. Perhaps she never talked about her older children to other men. Still. You don't need to know someone very well to shack up and sleep together. That's normal too.

For now, Chris is happy using his skills to help around the home, fixing broken cupboards or old ceilings.

That's nice. That gives him plenty of time to keep on 'normalising' his lifestyle and past in his head. Someone needs to give this guy a good shake. But that won't happen. The money will no doubt keep turning up in his bank account each week and he can go on playing at life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ReStart could rev-up recession

The government's temporary, boosted assistance for workers made redundant, ReStart, may play a role in deepening the recession. That is because, as usual, with welfare paid out of general taxes there will be distortional incentives.

The package is going to encourage these responses.

From employers;

1/ They will feel more comfortable laying off workers. An employer who might otherwise have worked with staff to share in a decreased return from the business might now mentally justify making one or two redundant. Especially if he is inclined to keep his own returns to a status quo.

The Minister has been explicit in urging employers to ring the 0800 number to find out what support can be provided if employers 'need' to make staff redundant. Some individuals take their 'morality' from the state. They will be assured they are doing the 'right' thing.

2/ Employers will be incentivised to minimise redundancy payments in order that employee qualifies for greater assistance.

From employees;

1/ As the extra assistance is means-tested the redundant worker may be tempted to take a lower redundancy payment, or dispose of any cash assets or investments within 20 days. He will find ways to maximise the assistance on offer even if conditions have been put on eligibility for reasons of 'fairness'.

2/ Employees will be encouraged to take voluntary redundancy where they might otherwise not have. For instance, low paid women who have left DPB to work 20 hours may find a return to benefit will see them in a better financial position (for up to 16 weeks at least).

These incentives then, could drive unemployment higher than it would otherwise have gone, thereby reducing desperately needed productivity. The rise could be compounding.

What will it cost?

The costing of ReStart is based on a 'worst case scenario' of 70,000 job losses over two years. As I have previously pointed out however, if Treasury predictions are right (and they are lower than other economists) and unemployment rises to 5.7 percent by 2010 then the total unemployed is likely to be over 135,000.

The costings of $50 million are far too modest. Even if they are based on 70,000 redundancies the figure assumes an average payout of $714. Using the Ministry's own examples of typical payouts, this assumes each person becomes re-employed within 8 weeks.

There are also difficulties with the concept of self-employed people effectively making themselves redundant. A self-employed person just scraping by, who was considering a move back to being an employee anyway, could be tempted to declare himself redundant in the interim.

Additionally there will be people who miss out on the help because of technicalities. For instance a worker with a long and stable employment history who just happened to have a break during the last 6 months will be ineligible.

In countries which operate dedicated unemployment insurance schemes it is normal to pay one claimant more than another based on the difference in the premiums that have been contributed. But that is not what is going to happen here. The extra assistance qualified for is based upon need, not contribution. Sounds fair but why is one family needier than the next? Perhaps one family has been living frugally in order to pay down their mortgage while the next has been living beyond their means. The family that will be eligible is the second because they have high mortgage repayments and no savings. (A cynical bureaucrat may point out that the first family, which is used to living frugally will manage better on just the basic dole whereas the second is accustomed to chomping through more money.) This is more of the socialist imperative of punishing responsibility and rewarding irresponsibility.

The good aspect of this development is the government employing the principle of temporary assistance. That is something we need to see more of. But not on top of indefinite entitlement benefits.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crisis? What crisis?

There can be no doubt there is a strongly conservative mood afoot in the early 21st century. The prohibitionists of many flavours are more prevalent than they were during the last part of the 20th. Although certainly not exclusively females they do predominate. Strangely their political colours are varied. Often Green but just as often blueish. Fortunately the blueish ones have failed to secure an effective parliamentary presence with the failure of the Family and Kiwi Party's most recently.

My comments are provoked by the Dominion Post's headlines of the last two editions. Saturdays front page proclaimed, 'We are killing ourselves' and today's 'Weekend of drunken mayhem'. Both are strident rallying cries to clamp down on alcohol.

The voices come from people who work in A & E and alcohol watchdogs. On Saturday the solution pushed was a massive increase in the price of alcohol through higher taxes. Bugger the people who drink responsibly and the people who make their livings from producing and selling alcohol.

But when you look at the facts reported there is room for optimism. A booze bus operating in Levin and Otaki (potentially areas where a high result might be anticipated) only 9 out of 1,000 people tested were over the limit. Not even 1 percent. The Wellington police said the number of calls due to alcohol-related incidents was nothing out of the ordinary. And let's not forget that the number of calls is up due to the 'It's not OK' campaign - apparently. The police had processed all of 22 intoxicated people yesterday.

The front page of the Dominion Post is being used to promote the crusades of those who chose to work in areas where they know they will see the extremes of alcohol abuse but would nonetheless punish the rest of civilised society with their prohibitive solutions.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just like the 'mother country'

“It is about the right to work. It is in the name of the party. It is the Labour party.”

Hah. That's a quote from Labour's Work and Pensions Minister, James Purnell, as he defends his proposed welfare 'reforms' on the eve of their announcement.

From what is already known, they are timid. They will have little effect, essentially asking beneficiaries to plan to go to work as opposed to stopping the inflow of young people or tightening up eligibility.

Asked why he wouldn't consider time-limiting benefits;

"The British people would think that was unfair, if you had very bad luck over five years and at the end of it there was an arbitrary limit to your support.”

James Bartholomew sums up the UK's performance in welfare over the last few years. He could just as easily be talking about New Zealand and our Labour Party's performance.

Britain has more than four million people who are of working age but who are claiming benefit on the basis that they are not working. This is the case after more than a decade of economic growth. The figure is likely to rise substantially now that we have entered a recession.

The numbers who are claiming benefits in this way are about four times the equivalent figure in the 1960s. This has been a massive increase and it shows particularly in the number claiming benefit on the basis that they are sick or incapable and then number claiming benefit as lone parents...

...The Labour government basically funked it. President Clinton had signed into law a radical change in the USA which resulted a 60 per cent reduction in the numbers claiming welfare benefits. Other countries, according to Professor Gregg, also sharply increased the conditionality of their welfare benefits. Britain has made only marginal progress. The welfare culture with the damaging effects it has on national culture has been allowed to continue.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why National's DPB reforms aren't enough

The Americans reached a realisation that welfare was harming families and children during the 1990s. They decided that open-ended welfare must be transformed into temporary assistance only. They abolished Aid To Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) and introduced Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF).

I came across this in the Delaware State Plan;

Five key principles form the foundation of TANF:

1. Work should pay more than welfare.
2. Welfare recipients must exercise personal responsibility in exchange for benefits.
3. Welfare should be transitional, not a way of life.
4. Both parents are responsible for supporting their children; and
5. The formation and maintenance of two-parent families should be encouraged, and teenage pregnancy and unwed motherhood should be discouraged.

If we held current New Zealand policy up to these principles, it would fail. As would National's work-testing-without-a-cap amendment. I will take each principle and show why with just one point;

1/ Having more children raises welfare income. People in work do not get a pay rise when they add children to their family. Hence welfare pays more than work.

2/ Adding children to an existing benefit highlights 5,000 acts of personal irresponsibility every year.

3/ A female can go from being supported as a dependent child on the DPB, to receiving the sickness benefit for her own pregnancy, to receiving the DPB as a sole parent, to receiving to DPB for Women Alone, to receiving Superannuation. Nearly 500 people moved from the DPB to Super in 2006. There is no legislation that prevents a person from choosing this pathway.

4/ The current child support/DPB system actively encourages non-support of children.

5/ Benefits for mothering are available to females from the age of 16 and very few, if any, conditions are imposed. In broad terms money is taken from two parent families and given to one parent families hence the 'formation and maintenance' of the first is discouraged.

All of this will continue unless National has plans afoot we are not yet privvy to.

Women's troubles

It is never long between reports that women aren't getting a fair shake of the stick - in the workplace or in society.

Yet our biggest government department employs a staff that is 73 percent female. Yes, the Ministry of Social Development. They like to skite that their workforce is representative. It's true that the majority of beneficiaries are women.

The Families Commission does even better in employing a staff that is 83 percent female. Then they start acting like role models by being very family friendly with flexible hours, school holiday programmes at work, going home early on Families Day, etc. I guess the idea is walking the talk so they can justify lobbying for ever more workplace legislation along these lines. Think compulsory breastfeeding-stations.

But the people who work in these organisations don't live in the real world. They don't have shareholders to answer to and profits that must be made if they want jobs. They have budgets but they go over them routinely. If they don't go over them they won't appear to be working hard. The taxpayer's pocket is very deep.

Many of these women employees - and their 'clients' - would once have been supported by men and worked in unpaid caring roles. But the more paid caring roles that are created - DPB carers beget social workers for example - the more they have to be managed and studied and monitored. The whole kit and caboodle exists to expand.

Now New Zealand is being told off by UNICEF because it has too many children living in poverty, not enough Paid Parental Leave and not enough good quality childcare. Don't tell me. Another taxpayer cash injection is called for. Yet;

1/ Most of the children living in 'poverty' in NZ have mothers on the DPB.

2/ The DPB is permanent paid parental leave.

Paying people to produce and stay home with children has hardly been hugely successful to date.

If the government would keep its nose out of redistributing income to further what it sees as socially desirable ends, people would get back to relying on each other for committed support. In which case the DPB, PPL and subsidised childcare, as institutions, would all be redundant.

Need I say it? More government, and the many appendages of government, is not the answer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Too many cooks

The title of this post is too frivolous but sets the scene aptly.

This morning Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, told Breakfast TV host Paul Henry, that although she had called a halt to the Families Commission Summit, she had no intention of scrapping the Commission itself. Among other things she believed they had done a good job in the 'It's not OK' campaign. 'It's not OK' has almost become part of our vocabulary she said.

The 'It's not OK' campaign has apparently resulted in more reports to police of family violence. When the police respond to a report, if children are present in the home, they are bound to make a notification to CYF.

See below the effect this has had;

Now, the CYF Briefing to the Incoming Minister has this warning;

The volume of family violence notifications we receive from the Police is higher than ever. We received 33,569 in 2007/2008, compared to 26,348 in 2006/2007. This is an increase of just over 27 per cent. If this number continues to rise, it will have an impact on our ability to cope.
The growing number of family violence notifications provides further opportunities for a more effective community response. Most of these cases are best responded to by family violence workers, not Child, Youth and Family social workers.

Let's be clear about this. The campaign by one arm of government is causing a problem for the other.

In fact the campaign might feasibly be making life for children in genuine danger even riskier as those social workers with the power to remove them become less available. Theoretically one could even speculate that the FARs (Further Action Required) line in the graph above has dropped slightly as a direct result of the notifications increasing. Over-worked social workers will have reduced capacity to take further action.

Talking about the Families Commission

I was invited to join Radio New Zealand's Jim Mora for a discussion about the Families Commission and whether we need it. Funnily enough Chris Trotter, when on topic and not talking about the history of the Labour Party or the pressing need to build more state houses, agreed with me more than once. (Starts at 9:00)

I note too that the DomPost editorial today calls for the scrapping of the Families Commission.

This entity began life with Commissioners numbering up to seven and 20 support staff. According to their latest annual report there are now 41 staff. Like the Children's Commissioner, they are well over budget. Most of the staff are involved in policy and research but the Ministry of Social Development has another 330 people fulfilling similar functions within the main body.

Its pet project seems to be trying to convince the government to increase spending on Paid Parental Leave ten-fold. As far as I can ascertain its sole purpose is to influence greater redistribution of resources. To Swedenise New Zealand if you like.

National's plan to amalgamate it with the Children Commissioner's Office is nothing more than window dressing. Disband it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How most New Zealanders see themselves?

There is an inordinate amount of squealing going on at the moment by those who have held sway for the last nine years. Here an academic takes on the thinking behind curbing local government and makes an interesting but unsubstantiated claim;

But deep down in this vein of thinking are more insidious ideological preconceptions about who we are as a society and what the legitimate role of government ought to be. Most Kiwis, apart from those to the far right, would feel uncomfortable with such views.

In this respect most New Zealanders see themselves having more in common with the worldviews of European social democrats than with those of American neo-conservatives.

Actually Labour fancied themselves as the New Zealand version of the social democrats. Their grand vision was to cement themselves as such as the natural party of government. The electorate just threw them out because they behaved as such.

As immigrants from Europe my parents were decidedly different to their siblings. So were their forbears. Their values drove them out of Europe. As did the values of many who journeyed, of their own volition, to Australia and the States. The people the writer mixes with may be Scandinavian wannabes but I am not convinced "most New Zealanders" are.

Somewhere along the line we have forgotten the description of New Zealanders as embodying rugged individualism. But there is still a strong strain of it simmering.

....councils should play a broad and proactive role in responding to community objectives and promote social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing.

Bollocks. The well-being of many ratepayers has been severely compromised by this very prescription. This is just code for greater and greater wealth redistribution by those who can't make a gainful living elsewhere.

Talkfest torpedoed

It was unclear yesterday what Paula Bennett intended to do about a families Commission Summit to be held in February 2009 at the cost of 200,000 so I didn't comment. Now it is clear she is pulling the plug on the affair. Well done. If National continues with this habit there will certainly be less to criticise. With the talkfest torpedoed she might as well go a step further and disband the Commission itself. Apart from preserving paper-producing jobs (of which there are hundreds more within MSD) I can think of no reason to persist with it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wiping away tears

A 16-year-old wiped away tears as he appeared in Christchurch Youth Court today charged with the murder of Abdulrahaman Ikhtiari.

He should be taken to the home of the victim and made to wipe away the tears of his wife and children. Perhaps he might vaguely stumble upon the difference between tears of grief and tears of self-pity.

Taxing questions

I gather John Key's throne speech has been delivered and is no longer embargoed. No surprises. All the stuff we already knew about. But this has me nonplussed;

My Government is today tabling a Bill to reduce personal taxes from 1 April 2009. Its intention is to pass this new tax legislation by Christmas and it believes this tax reduction will equip New Zealanders with some much needed extra cash in tough economic times.

Personal taxes will be further reduced from 1 April 2010 and from 1 April 2011. As a result, by 1 April 2011 around 80% of New Zealand taxpayers will end up paying no more than 20c in tax for every additional dollar that they earn.

Additional to what? So we could have a higher tax rate than 20 percent up to a certain threshold and then a reduction above it? Or is 20 percent the top rate target by 2011? What am I missing here?

Memo to Greenpeace

Today's Dominion Post had a post-it note attached to the frontpage.

The one below is John's response (or the one I would like to see). Got any other ideas?

Is ACT becoming "socially conservative"?

Colin James makes this observation about ACT's chances of doubling its vote in 2011;

Act's best hope is the last option, to morph into a social conservative party, for which our liberal policy settings have left space and on to which it could tack radical economics in a minor key. Rodney Hide has taken the party partway there. But he is not there yet.

Is ACT becoming socially conservative? Do I care?

That wasn't a flippant remark. I stopped my automatic payment to ACT after many years because I don't know what I am supporting. I have always believed Rodney Hide was a libertarian but he has kept a pretty tight lid on any socially liberal views he holds. The votes matter most and I understand the pragmatism essential to success. I can't do that stuff. Abject failure at it. I have a compulsion to tell the truth as I see it. I don't always know what the truth is so searching for it tends to take priority. This compulsion (as some of my perceived truths have turned out to be self-deceptions) has gotten me into trouble at various times in my life. And I still tend to upset matters among family members by not being prepared to bite down hard on my tongue when misguided proclamations - especially political ones - are uttered. But I digress.

Looking at the ACT MPs other than Rodney I don't sense a true liberal amongst them. But then I don't know them very well. Is Colin James right? (and please don't leave comments about him in lieu of comments about his observation.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Xmas greetings of a different kind

The Manawatu Standard reports, in Central Districts, the police are sending out letters to families with a history of domestic violence warning them to behave over the Xmas period. This raises a number of questions and reactions from me;

1/ As members of the community we are now being constantly bombarded to act if we suspect family violence is happening. Yet this exercise clearly highlights that even when the police 'suspect' violence is occurring (which is surely why they are sending the letters) little can be done until a significant event has taken place, which is often too late.

2/ Will these letters raise stress levels resulting in the very problem they are trying to prevent? The article acknowledges that the letter can provoke a "negative reaction".

3/ Are police men and women social workers or law enforcement officers?

4/ Who signs the letter, because it is written in the first person? And who is the letter addressed to - the offender or the victim of past violence? Is there no problem with privacy or letters falling into the wrong hands? Or a letter being used to deliberately provoke someone?

5/ Are civil rights being ignored? If someone has been dealt with by the court should they be badgered by the police on the basis they 'might' re-offend? Or do we treat family violence offenders as a different class of people with no entitlement to the 'innocent until proven guilty' status?

6/ If an offender is told his or her home is being monitored is there a potential for the violence to simply shift elsewhere?

7/ If, heaven forbid, somebody is murdered in one of these families after receiving the letter, what are the legal implications for the police?

However, the same exercise was deemed to be a success in Counties-Manukau so maybe the risks and questionable interventions are worth taking. I just hope the police have thought it through thoroughly.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A product of the welfare state

Latest post from The Welfare State We're In. It concerns Karen Matthews and some of the 'opinion' she has provoked. I will assume you already know who she is. (My own brief comment appears at the end);

Karen Matthews 'a one-woman advertisement for urgent welfare reform. '

It is astonishing the way that news and opinion work in Britain. Today, suddenly there is a focus on the idea that the welfare state created Karen Matthews, the woman who arranged for the kidnap of her own daughter.

The key to this seems to be that one of her lovers asserted that she had given birth to more babies to increase her welfare benefits.

In my book, I put the argument that the welfare state had undermined the morality of those most affected by it, namely those at the poorer end of society. I suggested it had damaged our culture and caused misery on a massive scale.

It is fascinating to see the arguments I put very carefully and with as much relevant evidence that I could muster put now in a really pugnacious and blunt way.

I don't want to associate myself with all the views expressed in the Sun today but they certainly overlap with mine. I agree that Karen Matthews is a creation of the welfare state. I certainly agree with the Sun that the need for reform is urgent. Sadly, the beneficial effects of reform would take a generation to come through. When views such as these are expressed in the Guardian and by presenters of the Today programme on Radio 4 or on Newsnight, then there will be a chance of reform actually happening.

From the Sun editorial:

If ever there was a story to make you hold your head in disbelief, this is it.

How could a MOTHER have her own little girl drugged, kidnapped, tethered like an animal and stuffed in a drawer under a bed?

Vile Karen Matthews is a product of the sink-estate underclass of chaotic families that loaf away their days on easy welfare benefits.

She is a one-woman advertisement for urgent welfare reform.

Slumped in front of her big TV, chain-smoking 60 a day and stuffing herself with pizza, Matthews didn’t give a damn for her kids.

By 30 she’d had seven children by five fathers and was raking in £360 a week in handouts.

One of her grubby lovers said: “She used us just to get pregnant so she could grab more child benefit.”

From John Gaunt's column:

The tragedy is that — just as there will be another Baby P case — there are plenty more Shannons being dragged up in a life of grime that leads to a life of crime.

To blame are the feral parents who couldn’t spell the word parenthood, let alone know the meaning of it.

Whole estates are infested by this underclass. They are not working class — the clue is in the title — they don’t and won’t work.

They have no pride in their homes or areas. They have no respect for themselves, let alone their neighbours or children. They have a moral code that would make an alley cat blush.

They have a lawyer’s expert knowledge of their rights but, sadly, no idea of their responsibilities to their kids or society in general. This is an underclass that New Labour have allowed to fester with their lax “non-judgmental, all kinds of family are equal” social engineering attitude.

But these people aren’t equal to you and me, and they need to be told so before they are allowed to breed another generation that will only be more irresponsible and useless.


We have a sickening situation where those of us who actually work spend more than £170billion of our taxes on social security. That is in addition to the £16billion spent on incapacity benefit.

It’s ironic that Matthews was convicted one day after Labour promised ANOTHER crackdown on welfare dependency.

Scrape beneath the surface of this new “get tough on benefit fraud” policy and you see it is the same old Labour spin. The depressing reality is that, even if the Government were serious, they have left it too late to crack down on the feral, feckless and long-term useless.

In large parts of the country people like Karen Matthews have won, and TV programmes like Shameless aren’t fiction but documentaries of their lives.

The welfare state was set up to be a safety net, not a lifestyle choice, and it is time to return to those principles.

Only those who have paid into the system through NI or tax contributions should be allowed to claim anything out of the pot. If this were applied, it would soon rule out junkies, new arrivals or people like Karen Matthews.

We should also time-limit benefits, as they have done in the US, to force the shirkers back to work.

We need to break the cycle.

These people have chosen a life of benefit dependency because they have been allowed to do so.

Never before, with the world in economic crisis, has there been such a need for urgent reform.

With hard-working people facing the prospect of losing their homes and their savings, I don’t see why the decent majority of Brits should shoulder the responsibility of the bone idle any longer.

Just as the death of Baby P must signal a complete change in social services, so must the conviction of Karen Matthews lead to a change in our Benefits R Us society.

If you have read this through it is pretty tough stuff. It goes without saying that there are deserving instances of welfare receipt. People like me would support them willingly through taxes or charity.

But every year in New Zealand around 5,000 babies are added to existing benefits. Try as I might I can't find any excuse for this or any reason to condone it. The idea that it should be stopped is only now just starting to seep into the collective consciousness. Writing like the above may be quite unpalatable to some but it is absolutely vital these ideas are expressed.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Celebrating acquisition of other people's money

What an overt bludger the mayor of Palmerston North is. For years various community groups have wanted to set up a one-stop shop but couldn't raise the money. Obviously the local council didn't consider the idea worthwhile enough to put the money up. Now the money has been acquired through (mainly) the Department of Internal Affairs.

"That's not ratepayers' money, which is the best part about it," Mr Naylor said.

The "best part" even.

Yes, let the NZ taxpayer cough up for some questionable scheme that the locals don't want to pay for themselves. Socialism in a microchosm. And to think so many of our so-called best and brightest get their education and lessons in life there.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Talking about 'curses'...

On espying this headline I thought someone was going to blow the whistle on the superstitious nonsense some (I stress 'some') Maori believe and propagate.

"General curse" claimed Nia's life

But no. It's actually some egghead's misrepresentation of a family violence expert's description of Nia's death being the result of a "generational curse". We already knew that.

Perhaps copy writers suffer from a 'curse'. Here's another recent example I came across yesterday. From the NZ Herald;

Europeans (50 per cent) were twice as likely as Maori (23 per cent) to drown and the most at-risk age groups were people aged 15 to 24 or 65 and above.

This displays a complete misunderstanding of statistics. Of all the drownings in 2007 50 percent were European and 23 percent were Maori. In order to express that in terms of likelihood one would need to work out the drowning rate per capita of each ethnic group. It would work out about 0.16 drownings per 10,000 European and 0.44 per 10,000 Maori.

In fact Maori are almost three times more likely to drown than Europeans.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Legalising drugs and absurd arguments

Lucyna Maria has posted this argument by Theodore Dalrymple at her site as the final and definitive word against legalising drugs. Ordinarily a fan of Dalrymple's work, I find this argument incredibly weak and disappointing;

In claiming that prohibition, not the drugs themselves, is the problem, Nadelmann and many others—even policemen—have said that “the war on drugs is lost.” But to demand a yes or no answer to the question “Is the war against drugs being won?” is like demanding a yes or no answer to the question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Never can an unimaginative and fundamentally stupid metaphor have exerted a more baleful effect upon proper thought.

Let us ask whether medicine is winning the war against death. The answer is obviously no, it isn’t winning: the one fundamental rule of human existence remains, unfortunately, one man one death. And this is despite the fact that 14 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States (to say nothing of the efforts of other countries) goes into the fight against death. Was ever a war more expensively lost? Let us then abolish medical schools, hospitals, and departments of public health. If every man has to die, it doesn’t matter very much when he does so.

If the war against drugs is lost, then so are the wars against theft, speeding, incest, fraud, rape, murder, arson, and illegal parking. Few, if any, such wars are winnable. So let us all do anything we choose.

Taking drugs is not comparable to fraud, rape, murder, arson and theft because there is no force or violence visited on another individual or their property. I accept that harm may be visited upon others indirectly but that may also be the case with adultery, gambling, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and viewing pornography, none of which is illegal.

The war on death is an absurd line. Death is inevitable. Medicine is a war against premature death. And guess what? We are winning it.

If Dalrymple wants to use medicine in his argument he might recall the idea expressed in the hippocratic oath; First, do no harm...

The war on drugs is creating more harm than it is preventing.

Sign me up for that

I hadn't seen Helen Clark (I've even momentarily forgotten whether her surname has an 'e' on the end or not) on telly since election night.

Then yesterday I flicked on Trackside to watch the Avondale Cup and there she was. Resplendent in red, looking very relaxed and happy. Where can I get a job that pays me to go to the races?

Oh, I've already tried that......

Not a great advertisement for the teaching profession

What is there to say about this story beyond it representing a fine example of somebody telling lies.

Have a read and tell me, even with your knowledge limited to the report, which version you believe. Because you will have a gut instinct.

A 15-year-old girl at Waitara High School has been suspended after a violent altercation with a female teacher on Wednesday.

Read on ...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Psychiatric disorders among children whose parents have never worked

In scanning the report I referred to below, prompted by a post at The Welfare State We Are In, I found this statement;

Furthermore, the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among children aged 5 - 15 in families whose parents have never worked is almost double that of children whose parents are in low skilled jobs.

As it wasn't referenced the claim took some finding. It comes from an Office of National Statics (UK) report about the health of children over the period 1990 to 2001.

I am now prompted to speculate about how much this finding (which I have no reason to doubt wouldn't be replicated in NZ) might figure in the significant growth of invalid and sickness benefits for psychiatric and psychological conditions. Oh, the useful research that could be conducted.

In respect of Professor Gregg's report, the finding is used to build the case for getting sole parents into work. That the parent's unemployment is bad for the child.

I am less sure. The conditions may be hereditary. If the parent(s) also suffers from them, that may be why they have never worked and possibly will never work on a permanent basis. I see the finding as an argument for not financially incentivising people to have children in the first place (the current weekly payment to a lone parent is 210.47 UK pounds). Encouraging people to have children and then trying to get them into work is arse about face.

When will the people who are in a position to make or genuinely influence the rules start to acknowledge these realities?

Queen to talk welfare reform?

There is speculation that one of the items in the Queens Speech which is delivered at the state opening of Parliament, will contain news about further welfare reforms in the UK.

A Professor Gregg of Bristol University recently produced a paper on welfare and it is expected the government will adopt some suggestions. I cannot imagine any of our academies producing quite this sort of stuff. He believes everyone should be planning to return to work - sole mothers from the time their youngest is one. At the moment the age after which a mother is expected to work is 16. It is going to drop to 12 and to 7 by 2010.

As for the unemployed, which there are comparatively far more of than here;

Unemployed people who do not turn up to meetings [work focussed interviews] should get a written warning for the first one missed, and lose a week's Jobseeker's Allowance for every time after that they did not follow their conditions.

After a fourth offence, they would be told to carry out community-based work like street sweeping and digging gardens if they were "deemed to be playing the system" and lose four weeks' Jobseeker's Allowance if they refused.

Professor Gregg said they should do "work equal" activities, such as spending all day in an office looking for jobs: "It would involve doing an equivalent 9-to-5 job search with someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you were not just on Facebook."

And from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell,

...Mr Purnell welcomed them and said the "direction of travel" was right, although he said he would consult further on the issue of non-financial sanctions.

"The approach that virtually everyone should be doing something in return for benefits is the right one," he said.

But here's rub;

But his Conservative shadow Chris Grayling said: "I have lost count of the number of documents the government has published promising radical welfare reform in the past few years, but they never seem to get on with the job of delivering that reform."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

ACC account $1 billion short

Just revealed on the Radio Live news (no link yet) that ACC's non-earner account is almost $1 billion short and they do not have enough money to operate beyond March 2009. What was Maryan Street doing? John Key claims the government was aware of the situation. The non-earner's account is covered by direct funding from government and used for injuries to non-workers like teenagers, beneficiaries and others not in the paid workforce.

Update; NBR explains

On resources and choice for mothers

Tapu Misa describes today what Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett's priority should be;

The more important question for Bennett ought to be how public policy is contributing to a lack of choice for some mothers, and how it might support those who have neither the choice nor the resources.

This is code for Misa's desire to redistribute more resources from the 'rich' to the 'poor'.

Let's analyse what the current situation is.

There are essentially 4 types of mothers with dependent children. Partnered - working and not working - and single - working and not working.

Partnered women are heavily affected by public policies which apply to their other half. Those who don't work, to a large degree, and those who do, to a lesser degree. Taxation plays a big part in the resources they have and consequent choices. To service loans, a mortgage and raise children many women will find they have to return to work. But after paying for childcare, and the costs of going to work, often there isn't a lot left. Their future work prospects are however secured and enhanced. Low and flat tax would make a huge difference to the choices that were available to them. Indeed, with a partner's income increased, the mothers may not even have to work should they so choose.

Misa might argue that universal free childcare would have the same effect of increasing resources. But nothing is 'free'. That and other measures like extending Paid Parental Leave (and including fathers), has to be paid for through taxation which straight away prohibits moving to the low, flat tax that would actually do a lot more to increase choice.

Working For Families is a prime public policy intended to give mothers more choice. Instead it creates a ceiling. There is no incentive to work (or for the partner to increase his income) if the government is going to remove tax credits when that happens. Like benefits, WFF traps people, just at a higher rung on the income ladder.

Instead of taxing families only to hand it back, the money should be left in their bank accounts in the first place. This avoids all the dead-weight cost involved and removes disincentives to get ahead (which would also incidentally add to what NZ needs most - increased productivity.)

The above applies likewise to working single mums who, as part of the lowest income sector of society, would benefit from decent tax breaks more than any other group. A income free threshold would also serve this group well. That's another public policy that could be considered. Such a policy would boost their resources and choice dramatically.

Non-working single mums, reliant on welfare, while often having the least resources have, in some ways, the most choice. Their days are theirs to fill as they choose unimpeded by having to work. Unfortunately this short-term advantage too frequently translates into long-term disadvantage. Up to half of these mums find, as children become less dependent, their own lack of educational qualifications and work experience present real barriers to paid work. Their choice is then limited to staying on a benefit and staying relatively poor. There are currently 42,000 single parents reliant totally on welfare, whose youngest child is 5 or older.

The choices of the last group are paid for wholly by the taxpayer. They are choices - to leave a relationship or have children without a supportive partner - that often yield negative consequences. In general, these aren't choices that public policy should be encouraging.

The choices that public policy should be encouraging are those that see people making decisions about having and raising children when they are emotionally and financially ready and not before. Becoming mothers at the right time for themselves and their children. That kind of policy should be as neutral as possible eg low, flat tax enabling people to make their own decisions about how to combine family and work. Policy that simply redistributes resources from one sector to another will always come with both destructive incentives and disincentives.

As a broad prescription then government should be looking to removing the incentives to single parenthood (ensure welfare for mothers is strictly emergency assistance only) and reducing taxes on all working mothers (as part of universal low rates.) The first enables the second. This would maximise resources and choice for as many as possible.

Above all public policy should take account of the following; the choice to work or stay home is actually a personal one. It is for the parent(s) to make. It is not for society to make or fund.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Saving us from socio-economic harm

Police operations to destroy cannabis production and distribution are being described as the most successful in 5 years. The police claim they have saved us, the community, $336 million in socio-economic harm.

But how do they arrive at that figure?

They destroyed 124,000 plants - or a yield of 992,000 oz - or 62,000 lbs - or 28,180 kg.

Then they multiply that figure (28,180) by the BERL Drug Harm Index figure of $11,800 per kilo.

Opioids and stimulants, such as P/methamphetamine and cocaine, were two of the most harmful illicit drug types causing $1.1 million and $403,000 harm per kilogram. Cannabis is estimated to cause harm of $11,800 per kilogram. LSD has the potential to cause over $1 billion of harm per kilogram, but it is used in very small amounts per occasion.

So the Police are not talking here about the selling value of the cannabis. They are basing their success on an estimate of the harm prevented.

Notice that the higher the estimate is (the more damage that is apparently done per kilo) the more success the cops can claim. That's handy.

Now I am wondering how many plants the police have failed to seize. Another ten for each destroyed? Another 20?

People keep on growing year on year so the chances of getting caught can't be very significant. Yet the total harm cost of cannabis use was put at $431 million just earlier this year. That would indicate the police are destroying 3 out of four cannabis plants.

Yes. I find that very hard to believe.

We have every reason to be skeptical about the sorts of numbers bandied about by the police and those contracted by them.

Australia doesn't want to 'lead the world' either

Delaying the ETS will damage New Zealand's image, I keep hearing. It will seriously threaten trade, I keep hearing. Today the NZ Herald carries an opinion piece urging to government to press on with the ETS. It claims;

This opinion piece reflects concurrence across business, the environment and forestry on the way ahead: Abandon the proposed legislative freeze.

I see 'consensus' has been rightly dropped in favour of "concurrence".

So what news from our largest trading partner, Australia?

Are they getting agitated with New Zealand's position?

As with most NZ mountains (Australian molehills) they have problems of their own consuming them. It appears the Australian government is also taking a cautious approach to the climate change response having just announced it will not set a carbon emissions reduction target until it sees where the rest of the world is going.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wildly divergent results

Using two different approaches, the difference in literacy-testing scores for prisoners is astonishing. According to Radio New Zealand;

A new test shows the literacy and numeracy problems of prisoners to be much worse than previously thought.

The Burt Word Recognition Test found 2% of prisoners need literacy help and 17% need numeracy help.

A new screening tool, developed by the Ministry of Education, was also trialed recently on 197 new prisoners.

It found 90% needed literacy help and 80% were not functionally numerate.

I had to read this twice, myself, thinking perhaps there was a mistake in the first figures. The first test finds 2 in 100 prisoners need help and the second test finds 90 in 100 need help. A few people should be scratching their heads over this and asking themselves how much time and money is being wasted administering tests which produce such wildly divergent results.

(The Burt test is used to assess the needs of offenders on release or serving community sentences, so it isn't just 'nice-to-know' stuff.)

(And yes, Adolf, the copy-writer needs help.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

One in Three Maori Women on Welfare

Media Release
Friday, November 28, 2008

Latest Ministry of Social Development figures show that one in three working-age Maori women receives a benefit.

According to welfare commentator, Lindsay Mitchell, "Maori females are now the most vulnerable group in New Zealand to benefit dependency. At the end of September 2008, 55, 255 - or 33 percent of Maori women aged 18-64 - relied on welfare as their prime (and usually only) source of income. This figure is more than three times higher than for the non-Maori population."

"New Zealand now has two working-age Maori women responsible for welfare policy, Paula Bennett and Tariana Turia, respectively the Minister and Associate Minister for Social Development. National's Paula Bennett is reported as supporting work-testing for single mothers when their youngest turns six. Unfortunately most Maori females begin on welfare very young, before acquiring any educational qualifications or work skills. They also tend to have larger families and it may be many years before they are faced with work-testing, at which point they face real barriers to employment. In any case, if unemployment continues to climb as forecast, there is a question mark over whether jobs will be available."

The problem of dependency stems from a large and steady inflow of young mothers and this is where the focus should lie. The Maori teenage birth rate is also much higher than the non-Maori rate.

"I don't believe anybody thinks babies being born onto a benefit is a good idea - except perhaps for the Associate Minister who is on record as saying,

I am intolerant of the excessive focus on controlling our fertility. When I used to sit around the Cabinet table with colleagues, one of the many hot topics I got into strife about was discussion around the 'problem' of teenage pregnancy. My objection was to the problemmatisation of conception.

So just what effective policies will the Ministers adopt to reduce this highly disproportionate rate of dependency?"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Transitioning on and off welfare

Statistics NZ yesterday released data relating to people transitioning on and off benefit.

Two things stood out. Only transitions onto the unemployment benefit have dropped - all other benefits are 'business as usual', including a 45% increase in transitions to sickness since 2000. So much for Labour's reforms to DPB and incapacity benefits.

This is more interesting. Look at the pre-benefit employment history and observe the remarkable homogeneity of the data. Doesn't matter which benefit, the (average) individual transiting onto it has a patchy work history.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Desperately seeking justice or revenge?

Thinking about the latest baby killing.

What motivates this relatively new trend whereby the family of victims sport tee shirts and wave banners emblazoned with their lost one's image?

Are they seeking sentencing justice and hope to influence the court, judge and jury? If so, is that legal?

Or are they seeking retribution through justice?

Are they assuaging their own guilt by 'honouring' and glorifying the victim? Or is it intended to induce guilt?

Is creating and displaying the image cathartic?

Is it a visual response to a gang patch or colours? A symbol of the side the wearer takes?

"... Jyniah's father Ike Te Awa, has also become estranged from his family, who have continued to support Kapea and not him."

The killer's family has their symbol in the flesh. The convicted one.

Am I struggling with this phenomenon because I'm Pakeha? Or is this development common to other cultures?

Does society in general respond to death in new ways which I am simply too sober to appreciate?

If I asked the person wearing this child's image on their chest, why, they may simply say, to remember her. Even then, I don't understand. You need to be reminded to remember??? For the sake of sanity I would be aching for a moment's relief from the memories.

I think there is a serious disconnect with reality going on here; in the courtroom fiascos we see, in the flashy funerals, in the utu-driven scrapping. Perhaps it's all for the media. One thing is for sure. Dysfunctional behaviour isn't just occurring between family members. It occurs between family groups.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2 in 3 think new govt a "disaster waiting to happen"

Interesting Stuff poll;

The Maori Party and ACT have joined National to form a new Government. How do you feel about the left-centre-right coalition?

It's great to see (446 votes, 27.1%)

It's a disaster waiting to happen (1115 votes, 67.8%)

I don't know (83 votes, 5.0%)

Stuff polls are not scientific and reflect the opinions of only those internet users who have chosen to participate

This prompted me to examine my own expectations. As usual, being brutally honest, I am in the minority. I don't know. I am not overly optimistic that a lot can be achieved in respect of what I personally want to see. So no surprises there.

But I am surprised at the number of people who aren't just 'not overly optimistic' but down-right pessimistic.

How would you vote? Perhaps a fourth option would have been prudent. "To soon to tell".

Monday, November 24, 2008

What about CYF?

"Ethical boundaries for people who work with youth," is the title of a media release from NZAAHD. Heard of them before? No. Neither had I. They are New Zealand Aotearoa Adolescent Health and Development.

This will be about the CYF worker who had sex with a minor he was working with and made the news recently, I think.

A Child Youth and Family worker faces jail after being convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old girl in his care.

Additionally, "He is one of four CYF workers who have lost their jobs in the past year after inappropriate relationships with young people."

But no. I'm wrong. It is a response to the possibility of the Waipareira Trust employing Clint Rickards to work with young Maori.

According to NZAAHD, "Mr Rickards has not been convicted of a crime. We must remember that he was found not guilty. However in his admission he had repeated sexual encounters with a young woman while he was in a professional position of power. He has yet to apologise for this, or admit that he made a mistake."

An employer of any practitioner who is being asked to work with youth should consider this concerning, and at the very least put some processes in place to ensure this wouldn't happen again.

Yet the same organisation failed to criticise and offer this advice to a government department which seems to have a proven track record of employing people who go on to 'exploit' their position. (Note to self. Any organisation with 'Aoteoroa' in its name can reasonably be expected to exhibit a left-wing government bias.)

I wouldn't go to bat for Rickards. He can look after himself. But there is something of a witch hunt developing here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Creating a portrait

It's been some time since I have updated my artist blog so I thought I would do a post showing how I create a portrait. These were the progress shots I was sending to Rodney while painting his portrait for the Adams National Portrait Award in 2007.

For this painting I selected hardboard (about 1 x 1.5 metres) and coated it with gesso, which is a little like liquid chalk. This has two purposes. It acts as a receiver for the first coat of paint. But more importantly I use it to form a relief. So instead of having a canvas tooth, I have uniform waves of brushwork creating an under-surface. Canvas tends to grip paint whereas gesso on hardboard lets the paint flow and blend.

When the gesso is dry I coat the surface with, in this case, yellow ochre. This has a unifying effect. Wherever the overlaying image doesn't completely cover the board, yellow comes through. Some artists use this technique very skilfully in impressionist work, overlaying beautiful lilacs and violets over ochre which makes for wonderful skies. As undercoat colouring (thinned with turps) I nearly always use ochre or burnt sienna.

When the yellow ochre is dry I start work with a series of photos and sketch in the rough image in charcoal. Then using paint I block in the major colours and a rough likeness of the face.

Next time I start attacking the background. Particularly difficult in this portrait is the set of wooden steps which I wanted to give depth and interest to. And I need to make Rodney look like he is actually sitting on them rather than squatting.

Of course there are many other interims steps but by now I am starting to hone it. Now I am looking for what I want in the face, which is the expression I perceive.

Final submission in which I have polished the shoes, added the watch details, lightened the grass and whitened the shirt. It's hard to get a photograph that doesn't distort a work of this size (eg this looks foreshortened) but this is a fair representation of the final work which was one of those accepted for exhibition at the end of 2007.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Not looking through rose coloured glasses

A letter to The Guardian posted at Samizdata

Dear Ms Featherstone

I think the people who should truly say sorry for such events are the opinion leaders of the Guardian. Please allow me to explain.

Last week I visited (as a doctor) a family in a council estate. The mother was concerned about her 12 year old son. She was very pleased that her older son was now on incapacity and would therefore do well for himself in terms of money. There is nothing wrong with this older boy that makes him incapacitated, but that is another story. She also had a 14 year old daughter, who while I was there, constantly argued with her mother demanding money for cigarettes. The three children had three different fathers, all absent. The kids, while I could see were still children, gleamed with malignant insolence. I can see them turning into damaged adults. I feel sorry for the trap they are in – the trap created directly by the welfare state whereby the family, and all those in the neighbourhood, see welfare as a lifestyle option. They live in squalor but have more wealth than most people I knew in India; they certainly have more material comforts than I ever had growing up in Delhi.

The Guardian describes such families as poor. The Labour party wants to throw money at the family. The Guardian readers blame Margaret Thatcher for this state of affairs, smug in their modern pieties, their intellectual laziness, and their stupidity masquerading as sanctimonious concern. I used to work with slum children in Delhi; they had very little, but even the most physically disabled amongst them made an effort.

There is no hope for Britian. Civilisations don't die, they commit suicide. And before they commit suicide, they read and believe the Guardian.

I truly and deeply feel sorry for all the children who are the victims of the welfare state. Things are much, much worse for the slum children in India, I saw more dignity among them and certainly greater hope.

I am not sure if you will understand this message. I am too tired to explain further. Either you will get or you wont. Either way, it will make no difference to anything.

Wowsers wasting money hand over fist

At least the Aussie media asks the right questions. That is the most hopeful aspect of this report.

The Australian Federal government is embarking on a graphic 'nightmare' campaign aimed at curbingf binge-drinking among teenagers.

But the question for government, health groups and advertisers is how do you create campaigns aimed at an age group predisposed to risk taking actually work?

There have been similar multimillion-dollar campaigns by governments in the past 20 years, including the national "How will you feel tomorrow?" campaign of the 1990s, which, if statistics are anything to go by, made no difference to youth binge drinking.

Margaret Hamilton from the Australian National Council on Drugs headed the advisory board on the "nightmare" campaign.

Professor Hamilton accepts that there will be no discernible drop in drinking among teens as a direct result of the campaign.

Classic the-state-seen-to-be-doing-something syndrome.

Friday, November 21, 2008

From Dysfunction to Death

Here's another unremarkable (an oxymoron as I am remarking) set-up.

A young, thought-to-be in her teens or early 20s, Maori mother of five, left dead, probably at the hands of a young Maori male, arrested by Police yesterday in Tokoroa.

Without a shadow of a doubt another family created and maintained with your money. With less certainty, but not much, 5 more screwed up lives to ensue. 5 more motherless meal-tickets.

When is this madness going to end?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Govt health warning

Something you definitely wouldn't get in Singapore;

John's Key's " first crisis"

The DomPost describes the 200 jobs that Air NZ is shedding as John Key's first crisis.

Key says;

"It's quite clear that tourism as a whole will be at risk with the economic slowdown as we see less demand from overseas. My job over the next few months is to work with the tourism industry to do what we can to ensure we pick up a larger share of what is currently a declining international market."

Chief of Tourism New Zealand, George Hickton, has been quite vociferous of late however about Kiwis staying home. He says it would be better for the domestic market if New Zealanders spent their holidays and money in New Zealand. When I heard him expressing this view to Bill Ralston on Radio Live (can't listen to Susan Wood) I immediately thought, it'll be great if his counterparts overseas are doing the same and succeeding - not. I wonder if he and his new Minister can agree on a strategy that does not include tourist protectionism.

Controlling what benefits can be spent on

I was rung by NewstalkZB at short notice yesterday to talk about welfare; the links to child abuse, Australia's plans to quarantine welfare payments and whether we could expect more from National.

Although I was reported in the following news bulletin as saying controlling what benefit payments could be spent on was a good idea, here is what I actually said;

I can understand why superficially it looks like a good idea but there are two problems I see

1/ Any sort of card or voucher system is open to abuse or fraud. Someone who wants cash badly enough could sell their entitlement for less than it is actually worth , which could leave the children in a worse situation. Or parents could turn to other dodgy means of raising cash like prostitution, or drug pushing.

2/ What we really need is for people to grow up. This paternalistic approach is only going to keep them immature and dependent.

On the upside women without cash do not have the appeal to deadbeats and hangers-on they currently attract and in some cases having no cash may be enough to make them decide to get a job.

What we really need to be saying to prospective newcomers , those young women who are currently contemplating or risking pregnancy, is, don't even think about it. Welfare is no longer an alternative lifestyle.

I should have added that the only support I would give the scheme is as a temporary measure seeing existing children through to independence.

Asked if I thought we could expect more from National I said no. Why? Because their only welfare policy is to work-test the DPB when the youngest child turns 6. The major problem with that policy is a failure to cap the number of children. Meantime, while the biggest percentage increase in births is among the 15-19 year-olds, there are no plans to prevent newcomers into the system. We should be making it very clear that welfare is no longer a lifestyle and that benefits should be time limited, perhaps to even less than the US allowance.

(On reflection I think Tariana Turia would go with a benefit control scheme as long as it was administered by a Maori organisation. Which opens another can of worms...)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The extreme authoritarianism of the SST

There are times when the Sensible Sentencing Trust appals me. My husband calls them fascists and I balk at that. But today's proclamations about drug and alcohol abusers having their children removed is just too fantastic.

Substance abusers must NOT be allowed to have unsupervised care of children until they have been PROVED to be drug/alcohol-free

1/ Who defines 'substance abuser'?

2/ Just where are the thousands of children whose parents fit the definition going?

3/ Are we going to persecute parents for hurting themselves or for hurting their children? Where will the line be drawn?

This sort of extreme authoritarianism gives the SST a bad name. This is exactly why I get very uncomfortable about ACT associating with them. Still, I no longer have any responsibility for the direction ACT goes in. Thank goodness.

Nia Glassie - Why?

First her father;

"I've got no feelings. I can't explain - at the end of the day my baby's gone and nothing will bring her back."

Shedding some big crocodile tears. And talking about 'shedding' isn't this the guy who was found by Kuka having an 'affair' with her niece in the garden shed?

Isn't this the guy that buggered off to Australia and left his kids behind?

Talk about there being no moral compass in these groupings of people called whanau.

And aren't we all getting sick to death of being commanded to take responsibility? Whether it be for 'narking' (I'll write more about that) or as a taxpayer, who should fork out more to alleviate the poverty that apparently lies at the heart of this dysfunction?

I knew a couple of kids living in a not dissimilar home and agonised over what to do. So did others. You are dealing with people for whom retribution is everything; that retribution could extend to the kids themselves, or the neighbours and their children. Their extended whanau, the first place CYF will look to remove the children to, may be no better. These families aren't just one bad apple surrounded by good. The neglect is measured not by its existence but by degrees of. Neglect doesn't kill but abuse can. They tend to be two sides of the same coin but not always. A lot of lies and cover-ups are par for the course as people guilty only of victimless crimes like smoking dope, or ripping off the benefit system, lie low. 'Narking' is no simple matter whether considering the best interests of the at-risk child, your child or yourself.

It is not black and white and the many moralisers who call talkback today agreeing that we will stop child abuse by looking out for it and not tolerating it, are simply feeding their own emotional need to do something. Then they will put down the phone and carry on in their middle class world where what to have for dinner is the most pressing issue.

What we are seeing in the Glassie case, and every other that does or doesn't hit the headlines, is supposed adults who have not grown up. Old enough to breed babies, do drugs and drink, get a menial job if it suits or not, but incapable of rationalising and controlling their fleeting, feckless, roller-coaster emotions. A child is perceived as weak or 'ugly'. It is targeted. This is grown-up bullying that has gone too far. The minds of these boy-men are further deranged by drink and the normalisation of violence through their daily cerebral activities. But they are just a cog in the generational wheel.

Here's the difference though. Forty years ago they wouldn't have been allowed to form the kind of groups loosely call families. There would have been no financial mechanism to create them. Babies were adopted out, sometimes to extended whanau, sometimes to strangers. But to people who WANTED them. It wasn't a perfect answer by any means, but what ever is?

So 40 years ago we weren't seeing the kind of mayhem we see now. Child abuse and neglect most certainly happened. But from everything I have read it was on a much smaller scale.

Expecting the solution to this problem to come from watchful dobbers-in is just avoiding the true problem and shifting blame. Tomorrows victims are being born right now and being sent home by CYF people who hold fast to the ideology that the child must always remain with its biological mother; being written onto a benefit by WINZ people who are not tasked to ask any questions.

Welcome to the compassionate and caring society.