Thursday, December 31, 2009

Research into casual sex surprises

The Dominion Post reproduced this column today. Essentially new research, with a reasonably large sample, found that young people having casual sex are not suffering ill effects from it. The researchers were apparently taken aback.

I'm not. Morality, values, ethics, whatever label you want to put on it, is changing constantly. Any stigma attached to casual sex is diminishing (interestingly the researchers found a mismatch between the number of males versus females admitting to causal sex and theorised that men are more likely to label their encounter as casual whereas females label it as something more).

But I think there is another reason for the result. There are most certainly people for whom casual sex will cause emotional problems - guilt, self-recrimination, etc - so those people are avoiding it. Those for whom that would be a waste of mental energy just get on and enjoy it on their own terms. Most people, despite contemporary paternalistic wisdom telling us otherwise, are capable of making sensible choices. It would just be better if 'most' was a bigger percentage.

Creative accounting Douglas-style

54 percent of your and every one else’s personal tax goes towards healthcare. The growth is scary, when just two years ago the figure was 41 percent of your personal tax. Saying 54 percent can hide what this means. If you earn minimum wage, you will pay about $2500 every year for healthcare. If you earn the average wage, you will pay over $6000 for healthcare.

That's Roger Douglas on Health. It's from an e-mailed pamphlet that landed in my in-box a few days ago. It also features here.

My immediate reaction is BS. Roger is up to more creative accounting. And I didn't think much more about it.

I was reminded of it again this morning however when reading a well-written op-ed from Des Gorman, head of Auckland University's School of Medicine, and the chairman of Health Workforce New Zealand.

Health accounts for 20 per cent of Government expenditure and half of the new money in the 2009 Budget was allocated to health.

Correct. In which case 20 percent of the tax you pay goes towards healthcare. Unless the government apportions more income tax to health than it apportions to any other area of expenditure. Which it does not.

Whatever tax is paid - income, GST, corporate, excise - goes into the consolidated account and is then allocated accordingly. If we applied Roger's formula across the board government would be spending 170 percent more than it collects. For instance I could calculate that welfare spending is costing you $9,000 a year ($20 billion divided by 2.2 million individuals) or 81 percent of your "personal tax" if you earn the "average wage". See how quickly this is coming unstuck? 100 percent has already been exceeded.

As I have said before I am not totally averse to Roger's ideas - I support individual responsibility but do not like compulsion. However, creative accounting turns me off totally. Why would I trust the rest of the message when I can't trust the numbers?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lifestyle welfare

Here is the Boxing Day Dominion Post editorial. I was pleased to see the writer using the term 'lifestyle' not only because it is factual, but because it labels the group needing attention as distinct from all beneficiaries.

My response was published this morning (apologies for the unintentional sizing inconsistency).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another false allegation?

Remember the troublesome two who claimed they had been attacked in New Plymouth earlier this year?

Can't help wondering if this isn't a similar situation. What would two youths want with a Hannah Montana teeshirt?

The disconcerting thing is, I don't know whether to hope I am right or wrong. And I feel uncomfortable about my skepticism, but that's what happens when crying wolf isn't an unusual occurence.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Douglas and ACT

This post wouldn't have happened without prompting. As it stands ACT doesn't interest me but a comment today made me mentally reflect on why.

Chuck Bird has twice made reference to ACT's constitution on this blog. As I am no longer a member I am not sure why. The constitutional excerpt;

“...maintain social and economic support for those unable to help themselves and who are in genuine need of assistance”

defines out what Chuck thinks welfare should be, which includes retaining a welfare state. He was therefore unhappy with a repetitive commentor who harps on monotonously about how we should ZERO ALL BENEFITS.

Chuck thinks he will put off ACT voters. I am flattered Chuck thinks that many people read my blog.

However, getting rid of all benefits is closer to what Douglas proposes than what is in the ACT constitution. Douglas has always wanted all New Zealanders to fund their own social security needs through individualised accounts.

From the NZ Herald;

"Sir Roger's Budget would cut Government expenditure by more than a quarter within one year.

People would be expected to pay for their children's primary and secondary education directly; tax credits would be available for those whose tax cuts were insufficient to cover those costs directly.

They would also be expected to take out catastrophic health insurance and meet more minor health costs like GP visits, out of pocket. Accident, sickness and unemployment insurance would also be a matter of individual responsibility."

Now, I am not averse to Douglas' thinking BUT its not going to happen any time soon. He hasn't managed to build any movement for it here or in the UK in 20 years.

Which is why I have always channelled my efforts into realistic (most would call it radical) reform of the current system. There was a period when state social security did what it was supposed to do. Can we ever return to that? Quite possibly not. But the prospect is more palatable to voters than what Douglas wants.

My approach is also what Muriel Newman pushed for a long time. When Muriel was welfare spokesperson EVERYONE knew what ACT policy was. Since Roger assumed that portfolio nobody knows what ACT policy is because he promotes ideas with the rider that "the views expressed are Sir Roger's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Act, but it features prominently on the party's website."

The situation is just mickey mouse. And it was mickey mouse going into the election. If ACT had had concrete policy based on the US reforms it could have negotiated welfare reform as part of its agreement with National. Instead it chose a platform of getting tough on crime. Well, I hate to say this, but crime is only going to increase until welfare is reformed, because welfare is breeding tomorrow's criminals as I write.

National's fault that more people are needing foodbank parcels

That's what Ron Maynard of the Southland Food Bank Charitable Trust says;

Southland Food Bank Charitable Trust co-ordinator Ron Maynard said he had also noted an increase in the number of families needing handouts, which he attributed to a rise in the cost of living and the National Party coming into power.

"I think it is the times we are living in – since National (Party) come in it has got worse. That is one reason if you want to get political about it," Mr Maynard said.

Has National cut welfare benefits? Is National responsible for NZ experiencing a recession? Did National stop adjusting benefits for cost of living increases? Isn't it true that there are fewer people on benefits in Southland than there were 5 years ago, when Labour was mid-term?

Doesn't it just make you want to groan when people dealing with 'need' say such banal things? Instead of some serious analysis we get a political knee-jerk response.

Of course it is not the wont of food bank coordinators to question applicants. But perhaps they should be looking at the underlying reasons why the majority of low income people do not need their services, and a handful do.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mums matter

A picture for Opinionated Mummy, who could use a lift - not a lecture.

The escalating immorality of the welfare state

I was speed-reading through F A Harper's essay on the immorality of the welfare state. There are too many theological concepts in it for my taste. However this quote is right on the money. It it preceded by a discussion about the moral justification of theft when it is undertaken to 'do good';

Under the welfare state, this process of theft has spread from its use in alleviating catastrophe, to anticipating catastrophe, to conjuring up catastrophe, to the “need” for luxuries for those who have them not.

Tyres on a late model car springs immediately to mind. There is no arguing with this observation.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Best Christmas song ever

Must be my Irish ancestry, with a great granddad officially described a "scavenger" who left Ireland to chance his arm not in the US, but Liverpool.

This song has everything I love; drinking, gambling, dreams, risk, failure, and utter poignancy....

And now I have a gingerbread house to decorate.....


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Seriously "pissed off" with Obama

Obama is rapidly shedding votes across the spectrum. A professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York, is "really pissed off" with him. A very entertaining read. I like this question and Key should take note;

Why does he refuse to make anyone his enemy, thus making everyone his enemy?

Key is still in the upward popularity phase of such an approach. But as sure as winter follows summer....

The Remote Client Unit - the 'too hard basket'

The now infamous Harris family were accessing Work and Income services (dosh) via the department's remote client unit. According to MSD;

The Remote Client Unit has been established to provide an avenue for clients, who have been assessed as posing a high risk to the safety of Ministry staff in Service Centres nationwide, to continue to access Ministry services.

Isn't that a boon for those beneficiaries who do not want to attend planning meetings, who do not want to comply with work-testing, who do not want to co-operate with increased face-to-face intensive case management, which has and will continue to form attempts to reform welfare? That's the cushy number to get onto. Can't be particularly difficult for a manipulative person.

I feel a Xmas Eve OIA request coming on.

Update; Done. I'll drop it in the post when I walk the dog in a moment.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reapplying for the dole hardly a "radical proposal"

According to the Dominion Post;

The Government is considering cancelling unemployment benefits after a year and forcing beneficiaries to reapply.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett unveiled the radical proposal a day after revelations that 300 long-term beneficiaries are receiving more than $1000 a week from the taxpayer.

It was revealed yesterday that the Harris family in Christchurch had received unemployment and sickness benefits for 25 years and recently received special-needs grants from Work and Income to fence their swimming pool and put new tyres on their 2007 Chrysler saloon.

Of course somebody should have to reapply for the dole if they have been on it a year. But reviews of the recipient's situation should be ongoing. Motivated people, however, aren't the problem. Currently 88 percent of those receiving the dole have been on it less than a year, so only a small percentage would be subjected to a reapplication process.

Paula Bennett's latest suggestion is apparently a reaction to the Harris family. But he wasn't on the dole. He was on a sickness benefit. His case manager had refused an application on the basis of stress, diagnosed by his GP. But after Harris visited a Work and Income 'designated doctor' (paid $106 for each appraisal) he was assessed as addicted to cannabis and granted the benefit he wanted. Thus he would have successfully navigated his way through a reapplication process.

There are over 140,000 people on an invalid or sickness benefit but only 60,000 are on the dole. The numbers seriously suggest that the incapacity benefits are in many cases a de facto dole. It is the case manager who makes the final decision about eligibility. But the doctors provide the certificates, the tacit approval. Any doctor who might be inclined to take a tougher line would probably steer a mile clear of becoming a designated doctor, which is where 'complicated' applicants will end up.

Many case managers have come from the ranks of beneficiaries and are sympathetic; and quite a lot of doctors are inclined towards being socialistic. Those who would take a less compromising line are not motivated to get involved. In fact, we have seen instances of GPs refusing to deal with applicants for certificates required for the purposes of benefit eligibility.

Therein lies the problem.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Slave to state-dominated social welfare

Gordon Campbell is running his usual line about the privatisation of welfare services/benefits lining the pockets of National's ideological mates.

The potential for dehumanizing, intrusive action by private sector agencies in the lives of vulnerable families is quite high. Unemployment, after all, is still rising, and the economy is barely in recovery mode. For many families at risk, the jobs are simply not there – and to use the jargon – ‘the labour market continues to be de-leveraged.’ Cracking down on welfare families at such a time would be punitive, and unjust. Yet, as indicated, this policy is probably less about saving taxpayer money or helping the vulnerable, than it is about creating opportunities to make money from their plight.

Get it? Only the state is genuinely interested in the plight of the needy. Any other party is looking to exploit them.

I have commented ;

Many families were ‘at risk’ when the jobs WERE there. It is entirely obvious that thousands of families have defaulted to welfare before acquiring qualifications or work skills and getting a job pays less than growing the family.

The prospect of separatism does not excite me but it would be interesting to see what the likes of John Tamihere can do given control of benefit payments.

Paula Bennett and transparency

Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, is obviously attempting to stir up anger about the welfare system to make National's fiddling reforms more palatable to the voters. Lead stories in The Press, DomPost and The NZ Herald are designed to do exactly that.

The Press describes a couple who have been on benefits since 1984 and have claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars.

OK. So why aren't we told how many others have been on benefits since 1984 or earlier? My repeated attempts to source such information are refused because readily accessible information is only available for the period post-1996 and to provide you with this information officials would have to generate new reports based on raw data. Bugger off.

The NZ Herald describes how recipients of very large sums are looking after other people's children.

Are people going to be surprised that beneficiaries are being paid to look after other people's children? I am only surprised that some information has been released. Because whenever I have tried to put parameters on the number, again, my OIA requests are refused. Specifically;

The information you have requested is not held by the Ministry. In order to add a dependent child to a main benefit, the Ministry needs to know that the child is dependent on the caregiver, not the specific nature of the relationship between the child and their caregiver.... to provide you with this information officials would have to generate new reports based on raw data...
Bugger off.

Ms Bennett has access to individual records and the staff to interrogate them. And while these stories of individual circumstances are very titillating they give bureaucrats and political defenders of the system an out. These cases are not representative, they will say. They form a tiny minority. They are the price we pay for having a caring and decent welfare state.


"....the welfare system should be open and transparent," she [Paula Bennett] said.

In which case, why are OIA requests constantly refused?

Here is a prime example from this week.

Earlier this year a reader shared with me a letter she received from Ms Bennett which said;

You might be interested to know that the vast majority of DPB recipients are in fact sole parents who have been married or in a relationship and who have lost the support of their husbands or partners for a variety of reasons.

So I asked the Ministry:

Of those single parents currently receiving the DPB, what was their relationship status at the time they applied for their current payment?

I was told they would have been single at the time of the application. My question was misinterpreted. In the past Social Reports have included 'relationship status' as divorced, separated, separated from a de facto, etc so I challenged their answer. Here is their further response;

With regards to your other question on the reporting of the relationship status of single parents currently receiving the DPB, up until 2000 the Ministry included data on the relationship status of clients at the time they were granted Domestic Purposes Benefit in the Statistical Report. However since 2000 this information has not formed part of the Ministry's formal reporting and has not been reported on since 2003. As you are aware the Ministry is not required under the Official Information Act 1982 to create information in order to meet the specific requirements of an individual request. For this reason your request for this information was declined under section 18(e) of the Act.

Do you see the significance of this? There is no tracking of the relationship trends that lead women to the DPB. So there is no monitoring of the effect of this particular social policy on relationship formation and breakdown.

And tell me this. How does Paula Bennett know "the vast majority of DPB recipients are in fact sole parents who have been married or in a relationship..." if her Ministry isn't reporting on it?

Policy will not be reformed on the behavioural response of a few selected cases. Policy is changed based on long term negative or positive trends in behavioural response. In New Zealand the transparency of data has degenerated. Information available in other jurisdictions has no equivalent in this country. Probably the main reason the US led with welfare reform was their willingness to track and study what the data was telling them. Big picture data may not be as sexy as gang associates buying wheels for their late model cars with taxpayer money, but it will create the impetus for wider and abiding change.

(Afterthought; It may be, and I hope it is, that Paula Bennett is being as frustrated in her attempts to achieve transparency as I am. An end of year report card in yesterday's Dominion Post said that she was turning over a lot of staff. Maybe the old iron triangle is at play.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Now that's what I call "consequences"

Another liar rips off Work and Income. This one gets $124,000 over 8 years pretending to be a solo mum. You got to laugh at the response from the Ministry of Social Development.

Social Development Ministry deputy chief executive Hilary Reynolds said benefit fraud exceeding $100,000 accounted for less than 1 per cent of cases. "Eight years is a long time to practise such deception. Georgina Nelson is now facing the consequences of her actions."

Oooooh. Which are?

"..... repaying the debt at $20 a week from her continuing benefit."

For starters why was she allowed to move to Inglewood where there is no work?? What should happen is a job, and a hefty weekly repayment. At the moment we are paying her to repay us. Madness. And no. I don't favour a jail sentence which will just cost us even more. Anyone who defrauds WINZ should immediately be cut off and left to fend for themselves. That would be consequences.

What is it with this country? We tax the bejesus out of honest, hard working people to pay liars and cheats and call it "facing the consequences". It isn't the liar facing consequences. It is NZ, for having such a soft-touch of a welfare system.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two birthdays

Yesterday my blog was 4 years old. Every month this year has been better than the previous so a big thanks for dropping by each day.

And today this contented wee baby is 2 weeks old.

And here's their nanny. A dog trained to worry sheep into going where they do not want to go, she is very solicitous of Daisy's kittens. This is Girl with a sleeping Palangi, from the first litter.

High stakes gambling with NZ's future

At the closure of the Copenhagen talks, the Melbourne Age reports;

Liberal Leader Tony Abbott said the result vindicated his party's decision not to support the Federal Government's emissions trading scheme legislation, while Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should be held responsible for ''trying to bully those who wanted a real deal into accepting his greenwash''.

During the passage of New Zealand's ETS legislation I sent the following letter to the Dominion Post. Don't think it was published. Maybe it is too simplistic or ill-informed but at the completion of the Copenhagen talks it seems apt to post it here;

Like many others I simply cannot understand the rush to pass the amended ETS legislation.

Apparently we signed up to Kyoto and have an obligation. Did nobody ever say till death do us part, and then get divorced?

The argument that the global community will punish inaction by not buying our exports is surely a matter of speculation. Wouldn't it be wiser to take the risk of being economically punished rather than embark on the certainty of punishing ourselves?

So that doesn't stack up for me. Then, even if the theory of man-made global warming is sound, New Zealand's cuts will make not a blind bit of difference in the larger scheme of things. So what is the point of our martyrdom?

Oh, because Green religion dictates that 'somebody has to lead the way'. Again there is no certainty that the rest of the world will follow, especially if evidence for anthropogenic warming diminishes or falls over completely. The only certainty is that we and our children will experience lower living standards.

So this whole business is no more than a high stakes gamble. I like a flutter but I wouldn't put my house on a horse.


A friend sent me latest Washington Post neologisms which prompted me to have search for others. These are some I like;

Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent

Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

Flatulence (n.) the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediately before he examines you.

Pokemon (n), A Jamaican proctologist.

Bustard (n.), a rude bus driver.

Pimple: n., pimp's apprentice.

Discussion: n., a Frisbee-related head injury.

Cabbage Patch: A patch for those trying to stop eating cabbage.

Bustard (n.), a rude bus driver.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dump Rodney??

Not once have I regretted resigning from ACT. I was very lucky getting the effective heave ho in 2008. It hurt at the time but the environment and personality politics would have driven me up the wall.

Act founder Sir Roger Douglas, with deputy leader and Consumer Affairs Minister Heather Roy, is understood to have led moves in the party against Mr Hide during the controversy over the international travel costs of his partner.

The Act board was told the caucus had issues over the leadership, and a special caucus meeting was called for November 22.

Mr Key is understood to have learned about the moves against Mr Hide shortly before that - between his return from Apec in Singapore and his trip to Trinidad for the Commonwealth summit.

He told Mrs Roy that if Mr Hide were removed from the leadership, her own ministerial position would be in jeopardy.

Oh Lord. What a loss that would be.

What a joke. Without Rodney there would be no ACT today. Sure he made mistakes this year, big ones, but so did Sir Roger. Looks like they are expending more energy on internal power games than advancing political ideas. Pathetic.

It isn't until you are well and truly out of it that you can see how silly this all looks; dump Rodney?? And replace him with whom, pray tell?

At this rate Rodney is going to end up being the Ron Paul of NZ politics. ACT needs him far more than he needs ACT.

Good on Key.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A banana year

Listening to NewstalkZB Face Off this morning, John Morrison, Wellington City councillor (and famous ex-cricketer), was heard describing his 2009 as a "banana" year.

A what year?

A banana year.

How so?

Because BANANA stands for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Mr Morrison gets somewhat frustrated with the anti-s, the environmentalists and RMA and can frequently be heard opining on the subject when he sometimes sits in for Justin du Fresne. I have warmed to him.

A "separate Maori welfare system."

Duncan Garner is reporting that "the Government is close to a decision that would see millions of dollars set aside to fund a separate Maori welfare system."

This is the extension of Whanau Ora. While the details are not known, not a lot can be said. As a rule I am against separatism. But the interaction between Maori and the current welfare system is unacceptable. Any change should be viewed, at least initially, with an open mind.

However, I can speculate. And this is what I think. Whanau Ora is Tariana Turia's baby. Tariana is completely opposed to any interference with the DPB, which is at the core of Maori welfare. She and Sharples have strenuously opposed work-testing which National are insisting they will press ahead with.

If the Maori Party can effectively set up a separate welfare system for Maori they can set their own rules.

The extension of Whanau Ora serves as a political solution for National. They can keep Maori onside while satisfying their own constituents desire for a tightening up on welfare.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I seem to have a mental block at the moment. It may be that I am pouring any creativity I have into paintings for an exhibition next year (and gnawing over the results). Or maybe the issues that keep coming up are defeating me.

Take yesterday. Ex Alliance MP, Liz Gordon, released a report about the children of prisoners saying she was shocked at their circumstances; their poor physical and mental health and the inter-generational tendency for children of prisoners to also become prisoners. That's hardly surprising.

(Respondents = prisoners)

Yet the paper puts forward no ideas for how to break the cycle beyond an examination of current interventions. Talkback host, Danny Watson tried to elicit comments from his audience yesterday and only got 2. One from a teacher who relieves at a school where having a father in prison isn't remarkable and children seemed to take it for granted. CYF were generally involved and he felt that the only way to prevent inter-generational transfer was the remove the child completely from their current environment but conceded, that action in itself could cause more behavioural problems.

I am tired of pointing out that the incentives to have children, when totally ill-prepared to, have great bearing on outcomes years down the line. Not a solitary politician wants to develop that line of thinking or go down that road. So we seem stuffed.

Or perhaps I am still depressed about my recent failure (officially described as 'their' failure) to engage with exactly this sort of family. The organisation I work for had to pull the plug on the case after repeated missed home visits (I was there but they were not). I very much wanted to help this likeable client, the mother, yet there were other family members making it almost impossible. It makes you want to hit your head very hard against a brick wall when you can't get people to see the potential they have to make their lives better.

So I am at a low ebb.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How benefits create need

Further analysis of Treasury spending projections shows that they are predicting the number of people on the DPB will rise to over 120,000 by 2014. (This allows for a cost of living rise of 2% each year). I wonder what Treasury bases this on? Have they, for instance, factored in work-testing, which should see a drop based on previous NZ experience? In which case, are they predicting growth elsewhere?

There is a subset of recipients, those caring for the sick and infirm, people who would otherwise be hospitalised, which is growing quite quickly. When you think about that group, it is also enlarged by the greater degree of family breakdown. Historically women provided this sort of care unpaid as they were supported financially by a husband. Benefits create a domino effect. Initial uptake leads to further uptake. Similarly a single parent who stays single and welfare dependent can't provide support for a daughter that gets pregnant without a partner. She, in turn, goes on a benefit.

The domino effect is just one way that the welfare state actually creates need.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Welfare spending - the only significant forecast growth area

Here are the forecasts from the Half Year Economic Fiscal Update.


Population growth is estimated at 5.3 percent by 2014.

Note very little extra spending is forecast in health (8.4 percent), education (3.5%) or law and order (7.3%) for the next 6 years, yet welfare is going up by 26.9 percent.

OK, a good part of the additional spending is Super (putting up the qualifying age could reduce that substantially) but so are Sickness (33%), Invalid (18%) Domestic Purpose's Benefits (26%) and accommodation supplement (31%).

As a portion of total Core Crown Expenses welfare will rise from 30.2 to 32.2 percent.

This country's attitude towards welfare, as personified by Treasury and the government, seems utterly defeatist.

Roads and retrospective rose-tinted reveries

All the media hype about alcohol inevitably leads to discussion on radio. Yesterday there talk about young people drinking and driving and a suggestion that it didn't happen "when I was young". That there are too many funerals of young people. One caller said that they attended 5 such funerals. I had Robert in the car with me listening and was telling him the opposite. When I was young, drinking and driving was far more routine.

Now it could be that the people talking about "when they were young" are much older than me but I don't get that sense. There are a lot of middle-aged folk who have forgotten that their generation drank just as much, smoked far more and did drugs, some the same and some different. Media coverage is probably responsible for creating an impression that the youth of today are causing far more mayhem and loss of life on the roads. But that simply isn't true.

Anyway I promised to show him the statistics.

(The injury rate from crashes with driver alcohol/drugs as a factor, pretty much mirrors fatalities.)

The next graph shows the total road toll from 1960 to 1992.

Clearly there is quite a lengthy history of it being much higher than it is today. I do not have matching statistics for specific crashes with alcohol as a factor but can tell you that in 1973, the peak year, the yearbook has a breakdown for the 'nature of accident' but alcohol isn't even mentioned. That isn't because people didn't drink. It's because there wasn't an official acknowledgement of or focus on the link between drinking and driving.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beating the Aussies

After all the recent talk about catching up with Australia economically, here's one area where we are way ahead.

The facts;

AUSTRALIA - The Bureau of Statistics report shows that 29,300 Australians were in jail on June 30 this year, 1700 more than on the same date in 2008.

NZ - In August 2009 there was more than 8300 prisoners spread across 20 prisons throughout the country.

If Australia caught up to NZ they would be imprisoning 41,500 individuals.

Interesting trivia; In New South Wales, most foreign born prisoners hail from NZ.

Growing up in a state house leads to success

Labour MP, Moana Mackey, at Red Alert, is calling for more state housing in Hobsonville. But, she says, John Key won't have it is his electorate;

John Key has milked his state house upbringing for all its worth, yet he is now denying 500 more Auckland families that same opportunity. Seem contradictory? Not really. I’ve long thought that whereas Labour believes John Key did well because he grew up in a state house, he believes he did well despite growing up in a state house.

That is just the most absurd statement. Labour believes John Key did well because he grew up in a state house. What are the implications of that? If John Key did well because he grew up in a state house then everybody who grows up in a state house should do well? If John Key hadn't grown up in state house he would not have done well?

John Key grew up in a generation when state houses weren't routinely occupied by people without jobs. If parent/s work, children are likely to follow in their footsteps. Having a job is a good enough definition of 'doing well' for me. Whether the house was owned or rented didn't make the difference. What John Key got from his mother was a work ethic.

Both Moana Mackey and John Key make too much out of growing up in a state house.

Awash in alcohol admonitions, etc

Monday morning and looking for real news, I find myself awash in a sea of alcohol admonitions, etc.

Let's start at the bottom, Southland Times, and work our way up;

Alexandra police are warning Christmas revellers to behave after a weekend of alcohol-fuelled offending.

Sergeant Ian Kerrisk said officers made nine alcohol-related arrests and picked up three drink-drivers between Friday and Sunday evenings.

"The silly season is well and truly upon us.

Next, the Timaru Herald:

Alcohol Action New Zealand has praised Timaru's lower rate of drunken offending linked to the earlier closing time of local bars.

Alcohol Action medical spokesman Professor Doug Sellman said the group supported Timaru's efforts and that the drop in crime was "entirely consistent" with previous research.

In October 2007, Timaru bars shifted to a 3am closing from 5am.

Of course Christchurch, capital of drug and alcohol dependence, would have to be in on the action. From The Press:

Christchurch central area commander Inspector Derek Erasmus yesterday pointed to pre-loaders as a significant problem during an otherwise quiet weekend.

"There was plenty happening in terms of drinking ... The biggest issue was that many people were already drunk before coming into town."

Erasmus said an extra 30 police officers patrolled the city on Friday and Saturday nights as part of Operation Unite.

Oh here's a slight deviation from the more sophisticated Oamaru, where the cops opted for focussing on other drugs. From the Oamaru Mail:

Oamaru police have made a number of drugs-related arrests this week.

Detective Sergeant Mike Ryder said 12 people faced charges. Eight had been arrested and the others were still to be located.

Before crossing the ditch it's worth noting Marlborough police are poised to seize the Picton home of a 63 year-old sickness beneficiary for cultivating cannabis. Do him for fraud as he was making a healthy living from his dealing, but otherwise, what is the point? From the Marlborough Express:

In what may be a first in New Zealand, a Picton house could soon be in Crown hands after its owner was convicted of commercially growing and dealing cannabis there.

Gary Walter Tittleton, 63, a sickness beneficiary, appeared in the Blenheim District Court this week and admitted cultivating cannabis and possessing cannabis for supply after police searched his Picton home on September 21.

Like the Oamaru police, in Gisborne the cops have bigger fish to fry. The Gisborne Herald reports:

Early-morning raids yesterday netted a “significant” amount of guns and drugs from Gisborne homes. Police searched 18 houses in and around the city as part of an operation targeting people dealing in cannabis and methamphetamine.

Fifteen people — including five from one family and gang affiliates — face numerous drugs charges as a result of Operation Rattle.

Around 50 police staff were involved.

Then, comfortingly, back to wowserism in Hamilton. From the Waikato Times;

They are already the target of legislative moves to raise the driving age and the drinking age and Hamilton City Council is moving locally by mooting a ban on drinking alcohol in all public places. The ban would come into effect between 10pm and 6am.

Finally the NZ Herald obligingly gives us a round up of nation-wide anti-alcohol activity and some more of the supporting propaganda:

Alcohol-related crime costs New Zealand $1.1 billion and Australia $2.14 billion annually.

(Anybody bother to question why those two figures are so wildly disproportionate? No. Didn't think so.)

So there it is. NZ on a Monday morning. Destined to do what it has done since colonisation. Fight the real and imagined evils of alcohol and other drugs. It's terribly, terribly boring. No wonder so many people want to alter their reality.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Has income inequality grown during the recession?

A great deal is talked about income inequality (and the evils inherent) and there is some MSD research available about it. To satisfy my own curiosity I created the following graphs to flesh out how incomes are distributed in NZ. Using New Zealand Income Survey data I made the first from June 2005 and the second from June 2009. The two sets of data have some differences in terms of the income parameters set and unfortunately the Asian group is missing from 2005. (It largely appears as 'other' but is not distinctly Asian).



The spread of incomes within the ethnicities has stayed relatively stable but I note the number of Maori has increased beyond natural population growth which may indicate that the recession has brought many Maori home.

The most notable aspect of the two graphs is that there is a greater likelihood of a European being in a higher income group and a greater likelihood of a Maori, Pacific or Asian being in a lower income group. That is shown in the inverted shape of the clustered columns.

An effect from WFF is probably showing in the change in the European spread with more people moving into the 4th highest quintile.

The high proportion of low income Asians reflects (I think) the high number of Asian students (the data is for the population 15 years and older) and that families often support their own elderly. In contrast, the high proportion of low income Maori and Pacific reflects reliance on benefits (particularly Maori) and unskilled work.

Accepting for the large low income group, Asians have the least income inequality within the group.

For Maori and Pacific, within their respective groups, the inequality is greatest. That is, the difference between the percentage that are 'poor' compared to the percentage that are 'rich' is greatest.

European 2005 Poor = 16% Rich 22%
European 2009 Poor = 17.5% Rich = 22%
Maori 2005 Poor = 22% Rich = 12.5%
Maori 2009 Poor = 23% Rich = 12%
Pacific 2005 Poor = 25% Rich = 7.5%
Pacific 2009 Poor = 28.5% Rich = 8.5%

And what about between the groups?

In 2005 the average weekly income from all sources was European $637, Maori $471 and Pacific $412

In 2009 the same figures were $728, $548 and $479 . For Asians, $512.

The respective increases for each group were European 14%, Maori 16% and Pacific 16%. So the inequality between the groups is also fairly steady.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Look what I found

Rates are horrible bloody things. They pay for cutting-edge, contemporary art galleries that a handful of the intelligensia patronize; and for men in orange vests to come and poison pretty plants on my property and other living things they swore they would not; and for the grandiose designs of idiots who think an old bus barn should have millions spent on its preservation as part of our 'unique heritage'.

So reducing part or all of the burden of rates would be a wonderful thing to do. I have recently discovered there is an especial term for it. Derating.

But how to achieve such a thing. Stand for council next year? No. My political ambitions are well and truly dead and buried.

Then I stumbled across just the thing.

A derator. Not sure what relevance cakes have got unless it is some oblique reference to Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake" which pretty much captures the attitude of those setting and imposing rates.

Now I just have to figure out how it works. But for $2 what have I got to lose??

Pushing China's one-child policy

This is a nice way to start the day. A writer for the Financial Post is exhorting the whole world to adopt China's one child policy to stop global warming. It's utter balderdash but... the comments are worth reading.

Then, as an antidote, if the comments haven't cheered you, read the Wall St Journal's Brett Stephens on the psychology of true believers. Brief and highly recommended.

(Hat tip NCPA)

Friday, December 11, 2009

National's "cynical pre-Christmas dump"

In 2007 National described Labour's $50 hike to motor vehicle licensing this way:

The Government has sent voters an early Christmas present a jump in ACC levies for motorists and wage earners.

The increase will see motorists paying an extra $50 on average to register their vehicle to cover the rising costs of road accidents.

National described the timing of yesterday's announcement as a "cynical pre-Christmas dump".

In March this year (in perhaps a cynical pre-Easter dump) Nick Smith announced another $32 rise to apply from July 2009.

Today, back to the cynical pre-Christmas dump, another hike is announced of a further $30 to apply from April 2010.

2008 up $50
2009 up $32
2010 up $30

From $204 to $316 - a 55 percent increase over 3 years.

How much can people absorb?

And I'll tell you what is really cynical. Scaring the populace by threatening large rises and expecting to bask in their relief and gratitude when you announce smaller ones.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Head of Families Commission - middle-class white cop-out

The head of Families Commission can't define whanau ora because she is "a middle-class white woman". But she can commit oodles of dosh to promoting it.

I should have some sympathy because I am a middle-class white woman and asked the same question here last month. Remember the chart?

But if you check the first comment on that post I think it is quite clear what whanau ora is. It is code for Maori taking control of the transfer of cash and services to whanau, hopefully, for their betterment. How far it will go (eg will Urban Maori Authorities control benefits?) is really the only aspect of whanau ora that is unclear.

I was musing nevertheless about Jan Pryor's response and the difficulty some Pakeha have with Maori concepts, cloaked as they are in the mystery of another culture and language. I tried to imagine a similar scenario with a highly-paid, public servant who was a 'middle-class brown woman' saying that she couldn't define a Pakeha concept for that reason and found the idea highly unlikely. Quite preposterous actually.

Dodgy DNA analysis

According to the Melbourne Age this morning, Victoria Police are experiencing problems with DNA analysis and have been forced to put several cases on hold and review others that may be affected.

The flaw in the system involves the interpretation of results provided from new-generation DNA equipment that is more sophisticated than previous technology.

Mr Overland said the machine, which has been operating since September, was accurate but the problem was with the statistical analysis of the results.

''Our statistical model has not kept pace with the new technology,'' he said. ''The science has outstripped the model.

''It is my view that the interest of justice is best served by us taking this course of action. It is my belief and hope that we will have this issue resolved before courts resume in late January.''

The Age last month revealed that the Director of Public Prosecutions had ordered a review of cases involving low-level DNA because of doubts over the system. The move followed the collapse of an armed robbery case in the County Court against two suspects after a police expert admitted DNA analysis could be unreliable.

My interest was initially piqued because there seems to be a view, one expressed during the passage of NZ legislation to allow DNA sampling from non-convicted suspects, that DNA science is infallible.

But here is the really interesting part of the story;

Victoria Police is the only Australian law enforcement agency using the new technology, but police in New Zealand have successfully introduced the sensitive equipment without similar problems.

So, why? Why aren't the NZ Police having similar problems? How would we know if they were?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Smoking and Single Motherhood

A study using German data has shown a link between smoking and single motherhood.

It would stack up here.

Who have the highest smoking rate? - Maori women

Who have the highest rate of single motherhood? - Maori women


Our research indicates that individuals who experience lone motherhood during childhood are more likely to smoke, and hence are at greater risk of poor lifetime health. This finding is clear cut according to models controlling for a wide range of observed confounding factors and holds regardless of the socioeconomic origin of the young adult and the measure of smoking behaviour. According to models which control for the unobserved factors that are shared within families, the findings are not as clear cut. We find a link between experience of lone motherhood and later-life smoking for young adults from the former West Germany, but there is a less consistent pattern for individuals from East German and Guestworker samples. In addition, there is variation in estimated effects according to how the lone motherhood arose and during which childhood stage.

Results of US welfare reforms

"A primer on US welfare reform" is the title of a paper by Robert Moffit, Professor of Economics at John Hopkins University, Baltimore. The tables I have used are from it. But first, some background from me.

When New Zealanders think of welfare they think any welfare benefit - unemployment, sickness, invalid and DPB are the main ones. So when they hear about the US welfare reforms they assume the same areas are covered whereas, in fact, the reforms were largely focussed on family assistance, which covered mainly single mothers. Unlike NZ, the US never created a widows benefit but from 1935 single mothers could claim federal assistance (although states imposed their own rules about eligibility.) So the benefit that covered this purpose, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was effectively the equivalent of NZ's combined widow's and domestic purposes benefit. In the US unemployment insurance is an entirely separate matter funded through payroll taxes. Social Security (for low income elderly, sick and disabled) is funded through a separate payroll tax (which began at 2 percent but has grown to 12.4 percent). Supplemental social security (subjected to a spattering of less successful reforms) and AFDC, on the other hand, were funded through general tax revenues. It was also accepted that socially, AFDC was doing more harm than good. That then was the major target.

AFDC was abolished and replaced with Temporary Assistance To Needy Families (TANF). Open-ended entitlements became temporary. (Which is what I have long campaigned for).

The result:

However, when we look at overall cash transfers, those the author includes as 'welfare' spending, the picture is very different.

That is because spending on other programmes continues to grow. The following table details the nine largest programmes.

So, many of those families that disappeared from the welfare rolls are, in effect, still on welfare. NZ opponents of the idea ask, what happens when people reach their time limits? US opponents claimed there would be mass poverty, people would die in the gutters. But often their homes, food and health needs are still paid for or subsidised and even a small amount of work will entitle them to an earned tax credit top-up. Plus states have a waiver to exempt a certain number from the limits.

The significant difference is that families were expected to work and, this is the really important thing, their children learned the same. The Americans also had little truck with funding training and education schemes. The major principle (although states differed) was work first.

The author writes, "That the 1996 welfare reform was a success, in overall terms and on average, is almost universally accepted by policy analysts and researchers."

Yes, there is good and bad, but on balance, most lives have improved. The following table summarises the findings of several studies. You will need to enlarge it to read it. But I want to highlight what I think is the crucial one.

A large fraction, if not the majority, of the effect arose from decreased entry to the program rather than increased exit.

That supports what I have long argued. That we have to change expectations. The easier part of reform is stopping people from putting themselves in the situation where they need welfare. For the life of me I do not know why it is so difficult for politicians to take this on board.

Back to square one

Today's NZ Herald editorial says that the entire smacking debate was a waste of time. Well not quite. Because if it hadn't happened, smacking for any reason would be illegal.

If ever there was a needless debate in our politics this has been it. Dr Latta believes the law change will make no difference to good parents or bad. He doubts its message will make much difference in the households Ms Bradford was hoping to reach...

It certainly will not help the poor children in violent households that Dr Latta and Mr Key have clarified the new law's enforcement...

Let it be clear, a parent is perfectly entitled to deliver a light smack to a child throwing a tantrum, being obstinate or obnoxious or plainly misbehaving. There should be no disapproval shown by anyone witnessing reasonable force in these circumstances.

So reasonable physical force against children is permissible.

Isn't that where Sue Bradford came in?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Paul Henry - using the market to punish him

Over at The Hand Mirror readers are being asked to e-mail Breakfast TV advertisers and tell them their custom will be withdrawn if they continue to support Henry's show.

Nothing wrong with that, although it is a bit rich how some loathe the free market yet are happy to exploit it when it suits. I will e-mail the same list to say I don't have a problem with Paul Henry and I won't be withholding any existing or potential custom from them if they continue to patronise Breakfast.

Heritage Hotels/City Life -
McDonalds - or
Village Roadshow -
Visit Britain -
FreemanX -

Discrimination against Maori - bad call

The National Council of Women is claiming that Maori women are being discriminated against because ACC isn't talking to Maori providers. The inference is that Maori are over-represented in the sensitive claims group yet the council provides no statistics to back this up. According to the council;

Women over all make up 82% of the claimants; and while it is known that Maori women are heavily represented in this percentage, ACC is currently unable to confirm what the actual ethnicity breakdown is.

NCW President, Elizabeth Bang says,

"Best practise would have set Maori women’s treatment needs as the first priority, given they are the majority population at risk.”

But as this has not happened she is claiming racial discrimination.

Well, she didn't try very hard to get the statistics. They are available on-line.

In the 2007/08 year there were 240 (14 percent of total) active Maori sensitive claims (average cost $8,692), 28 (2 percent) Pacific ($7,929) and 1,268 (73 percent) Pakeha/European ($11,737).

This chart depicts new claims.

“Since Maori women are more likely to be affected by the changes to ACC, why are they the last to be consulted” questions Elizabeth Bang.

Because Maori women are not more likely to be affected by the changes. One is left wondering whether these two groups are talking to one another at all.

No argument from me that Maori women are more likely to suffer sexual victimisation as adults (less like to suffer from childhood sexual abuse) but in terms of current claims, they are not over-represented.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Hospital bureaucracy

A post at NotPC about form filling ad infinitum has prompted me to recall how a few years back Robert was admitted to A&E with suspected appendicitis (thanks to our diligent and sharp-eyed GP whose receptionist was overwhelmed by my ringing the surgery later to thank her - apparently a very unusual occurrence).

The form-filling was a marathon, with the same information (name, address, date of birth, age, Nationality, etc) required each and every time. It went something like this;

Admission into A&E

Permission to provide pain killers

Permission for pre-op

Admission into main hospital

Admission into Children's Ward

Permission for medicines given in Children's Ward by Paediatrician

Admission into Surgery

Permission for Anaesthetist

Permission for Surgery

And I think I may have missed one or two like permission for a drip to be administered, but I'm not sure.

The staff were kind and reassuring. But the length of time everything took, during which Robert, then quite young, was, for what seemed like hours, in severe pain, vomiting and dehydrating but not allowed to imbibe any fluid due to the pending operation, must have been due, in some part, to all the bureaucratic processes.

(The silver lining was however, it taught me something about my son. He was a real trooper.)

If you are going Meat-Free today, here are some more possibilities

Have you caught up with Sir Paul McCartney's latest brainwave to fight global warming?

Meat-Free Mondays

I don't think he is trying hard enough. Why stop there?

Meat-Free Mondays

Travel-Free Tuesdays

Wash-Free Wednesdays

Technology-Free Thursdays

Fart-Free Fridays

Sex-Free Saturdays

Salt and Sugar-Free Sundays

The possibilities are just mind-boggling. And we could all go and live in yellow submarines too.

Spending on prisoner health - and your point is?

Shock, horror. Taxpayers fund bill of $22 million for prisoner health.

Convicted criminals have received more than $22 million in taxpayer-funded healthcare while in jail in the past year – nearly three times more than five years ago.

Figures obtained by The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act show the average annual health spend per prisoner in the year to June was $2752.

But how does that compare to non-prisoners?

Total health spending forecast by Treasury for 2009 was $12.396 billion. Divided across 4,316,000 people that's $2,872 each. More than was spent on prisoners.

Where's the story? The only conclusion I can draw is that prisoner health has been chronically under-funded in the past. Under Labour, no less.

Or is the writer simply attempting to fuel resentment that anything at all is spent on prisoner's health?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

More on Garth George's response to Taskforce 2025

That really was a shocker from Garth George during the week. Full of misrepresentation, that unfortunately gets picked up as gospel. I sent the letter below and it was printed yesterday.

Don Brash also wrote a response which I am lifting from Home Paddock. Let's hope the NZ Herald has the integrity to publish it.

Garth George was way off beam in his attack on the first report of the 2025 Taskforce.

Leaving aside the personal invective, he claims that the “biggest absurdity” in the report is the proposition that New Zealand can and should catch up with Australia. He says that “there is just no comparison between the two countries”, with Australia having five times our population, 32 times our land area, and huge resources of minerals. Well, those are factual statements about Australia, but they ignore some important facts which he would be aware of had he read the report.

First, there is no correlation between living standards and population – if there were, India would be super-rich and Singapore would be poor.

Second, there is no correlation between living standards and land area – if there were, Russia would be super-rich and Finland would be poor.

Third, there is no correlation between living standards and mineral wealth – if there were, the Congo would be super-rich and Japan would be poor.

In any event, a recent World Bank study showed that, in per capita terms, New Zealand has more natural resources than almost any other country in the world.

For most of New Zealand’s history, our standard of living has been very similar to that in Australia – sometimes a bit ahead, sometimes a bit behind. And the Taskforce didn’t off its own bat decide that catching Australia again by 2025 would be some good idea: the goal was set by the Government itself, and the Taskforce was set up both to advise on how best to achieve the (very challenging) goal and to monitor annually progress towards achieving it.

Too often in the past, governments have announced grandiose commitments to lift living standards – such as the last Government’s commitment to lift us into the top half of developed countries within 10 years – but then totally ignored those commitments, hoping that nobody would notice it. It is to the Government’s credit that they made a commitment and then established a mechanism to hold them to account.

Garth George accuses the Taskforce of recommending a whole range of things which we do not recommend. For example, he accuses us of recommending a flat personal income tax, and notes that if such a tax were established a whole range of low income people would have to pay more tax. But whatever the merits of a flat tax, the Taskforce did not recommend such a tax. What we did say was that, if core government spending were cut to the same fraction of GDP that it was in both 2004 and 2005 (29%), the top personal rate, the company tax rate, and the trust tax rate could comfortably be aligned at 20%. Under such a tax structure, all those earning above $14,000 a year would pay less income tax, while nobody would pay more income tax.

Nobody seriously argues that government was vastly too small in New Zealand in 2004 and 2005 (the end of the Labour Government’s second term in office), so why the ridiculous reaction when the Taskforce suggests reducing government spending to that level?

Mr George also suggests that we recommended abolishing subsidised doctor visits, and implies that we are advocating an American approach to healthcare. This is again utter nonsense. We suggested targeting subsidies for doctor’s visits at those who need them, either because they have low incomes or have chronic health problems.

He suggests that we favoured removing subsidies for early childhood education. Again, not true. What we said was that those subsidies – which have trebled in cost from $400 million a year to $1.2 billion a year over the last five years – should be focused on those who need them.

The recommendations of the 2025 Taskforce are actually totally in line with orthodox thinking in most developed countries, and are almost entirely consistent with the recommendations of the recent OECD report on New Zealand.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Quick sketch for the Xmas Card

Here's a quick sketch I've just done for the Xmas Card this year. Robert says, But Jeffrey is purple and Palangi is yellow. True. But black and white is so boring. And nothing is ever black and white.

South Auckland Police - surrogate parents and social workers

Really. What is Law and Order coming to.

Counties Manukau Police say there are some practical tips that will assist everyone to have a calm, happy and safe Merry Family Christmas and New Year.

 Set aside money to cover bills in January and February.

 Don't spend more on Christmas than you can afford. Christmas can be about spending time together as a family, not about buying expensive presents.

 Moderate your alcohol consumption. You don't need to drink to excess to have a good time.

 Don't drink and drive. Arrange for transport home prior to going out or appoint a sober driver.

 If you share custody of children, come to an agreement before Christmas so that children get to spend time with each of you.

 Problems can be resolved without arguments.

 Take time out. If things become heated or stressful, go somewhere for a few hours to let things calm down.

 If you are feeling afraid or overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust.

 If you want help to avoid or prevent family violence, contact an appropriate agency. Some are listed below.

 Most importantly, if you have any fears for your own or your children's safety, contact the Police immediately.

British politics - tragedy or comedy?

The wife of the Commons Speaker wants to run for Parliament. He was a Tory MP before becoming speaker but she wants to run for Labour. Anyway, in anticipation, she figured she would get the skeletons out of her cupboard herself. What a riot.

Sally Bercow, 40, described her battle with drink, her fetish for one night stands in her twenties and criticised David Cameron as a “merchant of spin”.

“I was a big binge drinker in my twenties. I started drinking at Oxford, being a party girl, and it got out of control.

“I got a grip for a while, but in the mid-Nineties I was working in advertising and I would drink wine at lunch then go out and drink a bottle in the evening: most evenings really. I had no stop button.

Asked whether this was as excessive as she implies, she added: “Well, OK. It was sometimes more like two bottles, except I promised John I wouldn’t say that. Have I mucked it up already?”

She became teetotal in 2000 after realising she had put herself in danger. “I was an argumentative, stroppy drunk, picking arguments with my bosses over stupid things. Plus I’d lose my judgment and put myself in danger. I’d fall asleep on the Tube and end up in Epping or Heathrow. And I’d get into unlicensed minicabs in the early hours: all the things we’d tell our daughters not to do.”

Mrs Bercow also confessed to casual sexual encounters fuelled by alcohol. “The weren’t romantic. They were more like flings. I wasn’t looking for love. But it’s true that I would end up sometimes at a bar and someone would send a drink over and I'd think, ‘Why not?’ and we'd go home together. I liked the excitement of not knowing how a night was going to end. It was all very ladette - work hard, play hard.”

Nadine Dorries, a Tory MP who opposed Mr Bercow’s selection as Speaker, said: “We desperately need to restore both authority and respect to Parliament. What this interview has done is remove any painstaking progress Parliament has made and reduced the Speaker and his office to that of a laughing stock. How can we ask the people to trust us, when the man who holds us to account has such poor judgment that he allowed his wife to give such an appalling self obsessed interview?”

She even made comments about her husband that could be seized upon by his opponents. She revealed that after dating him for six months “he dumped me for being too argumentative". She added: "But you have to remember that he was a Right-wing headbanger at the time. He’s much more rounded and moderate now and he's rethought a lot.”

Ummm. He might be rethinking some more.

And I liked this reader's comment;

It was so toe-curlingly cringeworthy that I couldn't read it through to the end.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Yet another cheerleader for mediocrity

Another apologist for being a second rate country and economy. Garth George in today's NZ Herald dismissing the Taskforce 2025 report as "full of absurdities";

But perhaps the biggest absurdity is the proposition that New Zealand can and should catch up with Australia. Apart from the fact that Kiwis and Aussies speak the same language and have a historic affinity for each other, there is just no comparison between the two countries.

Australia, for instance, has five times our population and 32 times our land area, an almost entirely different climate and is immensely richer in mineral resources.

So how is it that in the past NZ ranked higher than Australia in per capita incomes?

According to economist Brain Easton,

New Zealand’s GDP per capita was just ahead of Australia through the 1950/1 to 1966/7 – by around 5 percent. In effect the two economies were growing at the more or less the same per capita rate, the minuscule difference of New Zealand growing .2 percent a year perhaps being due to measurement error.

In 1973 NZ joined the OECD. In 1974 NZ ranked 6th out of 26; Australia ranked 7th. The respective incomes were $6054 and $6020. But by 1984 Australia had pulled ahead by 8 percent;1994, 23 percent and 2004, 34 percent.

As for the idea that a bigger population and land mass confers greater wealth per capita, tell that to the Chinese, the Indians, the Malaysians and Nigerians. Now that idea truly is an absurdity.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Families Commission barking up the wrong tree again

The Families Commission is calling for Paid Parental Leave for fathers. A survey due to be released today paints a glowing picture of fatherhood and modern day paternal involvement, but, according to the Commission, even greater 'bonding' with newborns is required.

It is commendable that many fathers in 2009 participate in the day to day care of their children to a greater degree than in past times. I am a big fan of fatherhood. But the extra fathering is not shared equitably across the board.

A few decades ago men may not have routinely attended births, fed babies and changed nappies. But they did routinely support their families by working and putting a roof over their heads.

In 1973 only 7.6 percent of families with dependent children had an absent parent. Today around 28 percent are headed by a single parent, usually a female.

In 2008, more than 26,000 mothers received Paid Parental Leave.

In the same year over 6,000 received the DPB as first time mothers aged 28 or less. Add in those older and those having another child and the number doubles.

So probably as many as one in five new babies is not being financially supported by their father (except through Child Support). Not such a glowing picture.

And while the survey finds that Maori and Pacific fathers were the most devoted, Maori and Pacific fathers are also the least likely to fulfil the role of breadwinner. Of the 6,196 first time mothers (aged 28 or less) who went on the DPB in 2008, 43 percent were Maori and 12 percent were Pacific. Assuming most, but not all, of the fathers of their children fall into the same ethnic group, Maori are extremely over-represented.

(Of course there will be mothers claiming the DPB with partners who are very involved but as this is illegal it is impossible to quantify how many.)

So, Families Commission, what about a trade off?

Paid Parental Leave for fathers who stick around, but no DPB - at least not as we know it now. If you are serious about encouraging active and enduring fathering getting rid of the DPB would be the single-most significant step you could advocate.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Child poverty - 'recession' the wrong culprit

Last week the release of the NZ Children's Social Health Monitor's latest report about the effects of recession provoked much angst and agitation for a stronger safety net for children. My response was that the recession isn't the problem. The DPB is.

Here is one of their graphs. It illustrates my point very well.

Thanks a lot, National

A plan to close the wealth gap with Australia is "too radical" for Finance Minister Bill English, who says bringing the two countries to economic parity by 2025 is an "aspirational" rather than realistic goal.

So catching up with Australia is only an "aspirational" goal. Not a realistic one.

What a losing attitude. Do the AllBlacks have aspirational rather than realistic goals?

By the end of this week my entry (or more accurately, a photograph of my entry) into the biennial National Portrait competition is due. Do I want to win? You bet. There probably isn't a great chance given the high number of entries and the judge being an unknown quantity. But I went out and bought best quality canvas, re-stocked my paints and brushes, chose a subject close to my heart, studied it hard, took some chances with new colours and put in the hours. In other words I am doing what I have to, to be in with a chance - at the very least.

I didn't say, well, despite getting into every competition since it began, I have never won, so why bother. Or, if I just keep on doing what I always do the result will somehow change. I am not asking people what they think and ignoring what they tell me.

I hate having a mediocre, going-through-the-motions government. I am sick of Guy Smiley and his self-professed optimism. I heard him on radio saying I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy. Idiot. A glass half full is being filled. Our glass is half empty because it is being drained. NZ is not making progress economically and hasn't for a long time. What right does he have to refuse to act in the countries best long term interests? He can slum it with the best of them, side with the losers, molly coddle the moaners. But he's no leader. He's where he is in the polls because he isn't Helen.

In 2025 I will be 66. I don't care about the f-----g super John. Put the bloody age up. What I care about is whether my kids and grand kids will want to live here, will be able to afford to live here. But if you believe achieving strong economic growth isn't a realistic goal the chances of that happening will continue to slip away.

Thanks a lot John.

Monday, November 30, 2009

2025 productivity report makes crucial recommendations

Media Release


Monday, November 30, 2009

Crucial recommendations about the reform of working age welfare contained in the 2025 Taskforce Report must not be ignored, according to welfare commentator, Lindsay Mitchell.

"The report says that far too many fit and able New Zealanders are receiving their income from the state, " said Mrs Mitchell. "This reduces New Zealand's productivity through loss of participation and contribution."

"The authors have specifically recommended that the domestic purposes benefit have a 'absolute cut-off period' of 5 years. It observes that in many households parents work when their children are quite young, even when they may not want to. It finds no reason why those supported by the taxpayer should be treated more generously."

"It goes on to detail the disproportionate growth in invalid and sickness beneficiaries and urges serious efforts to get people off these benefits and into jobs wherever this can be realistically and compassionately achieved. Interestingly the report does not mention reform of the unemployment benefit. That may be because the authors recognise that sickness and invalid benefits have become, to some extent, de facto dole payments."

"The report's welfare recommendations are not out of line with what National campaigned on but have yet to deliver. The recommendations are not particularly radical and should be welcomed by all New Zealanders as the very minimum required to lift productivity and living standards to Australian levels by 2025."

Cat -chup

The next batch is due any day now. Mother is demented. Hissing and growling at anyone who even looks at her. I thought about taking her to the vet but considered that may cause her even greater stress, apart from which putting a possum in a box would be easier. This time, post birth, she will be whipped to the vet faster than John Key can say, no flat tax. But before we move on here are Jeffrey and Palangi now. I must say, as a dog person, these two have given us a great deal of pleasure. But there will be no more keepers! Fortunately four kittens are already spoken for. Let's hope Daisy produces to order.

Shootings, stabbings, suicides

Yes it's a grim title for a post. I have gotten side tracked yet again. Or am I? Look at the link. It makes for very disturbing reading. Somehow bureaucratic matter-of-fact reports are more sobering than sensational media stories. It is the Los Angeles County;

Department of Children and Family Services' internal log of 98 fatalities in 2009 (through early August) among children who had passed through the county child-welfare system. It was obtained by The Times and has not been altered, except for the deletion of children's names to protect families' privacy. In most cases, The Times was unable to verify the circumstances the log describes and has not corrected misspellings and typographical errors.

The shooting of teenage boys figures very prominently. But what has this got to do with New Zealand?

From late 2007;

When New Zealand's suburban teenagers first began imitating the clothes, language and antisocial posturing of America's `gangsta' culture, they were laughed off as ludicrous, if unnerving, fantasists. Perhaps they still are, but 10 murders in two years, and a spate of vicious alcohol-fuelled assaults, have forced police to acknowledge they can cause a lot of harm.

Has the situation improved? Counties Manukau police, MSD, the local council and public have put a huge amount of effort into tackling gangs. Let's hope it is paying off. For my part I am doubtful significant improvement will be achieved as long as the machinery for creating the dysfunctional families and kids remains intact.