Chris Trotter has probably done ACT a favour today by attacking them in his Dominion Post column. His point of objection - ACT's slogan to "turn back the clock", as expressed by ACT's number 5 candidate David Garrett. Trotter insists that to turn back the clock to the low crime, full employment New Zealand of the 50s ACT would need to restore the cradle-to-grave welfare state that it rails against. Let's examine that.
Welfare creates a cycle. Just as the economic cycle exists and seasonal cycles exist. But the cycle is far more protracted than either of these. The 1830s in the Britain saw a peak of the welfare cycle, that is, it was at its most destructive. Reforms were instituted which essentially abolished outdoor relief - cash payments to the unemployed and others unable to make their own living. The choice was work or workhouse.
This was the mood that prevailled as the early settlers left Britain and other European countries of origination. When they arrived in New Zealand they resisted calls for establishing rate-payer funded welfare although provinces funded what was called charitable aid through hospitals. The rightful provider of welfare was considered to be the family.
But as the cycle progressed and advocacy for an old age pension and thereafter more and more benefits won the day, dependency and slowing productivity started to grow. Societies gradually buy into what's on offer. Values are changed as in the transformation from the morals-based non-abused welfare state (up to the 60s) to the entitlement based highly-abused welfare state, where everyone wants a slice because they are owed. And when their slice isn't big enough resentment and a breakdown in cohesion results. Dysfunction and crime grow.
So I contend we are at another destructive peak in the welfare cycle and have been since the early nineties. Which is why we need to pare it back. And soon.
Trotter is mistaken. More welfarism won't improve matters. But I do agree that we cannot turn back the clock either. Values have changed too much. We can however go forward by acknowledging how much conditions for women have improved (the DPB is unnecessary) how private insurance for unemployment tends to build in fewer disincentives (the dole should go) how the best results in helping the poor come from voluntary one-on-one efforts (harness the potential of our active and youthful ageing population). What we don't want is a reintroduction of tariffs, subsidies, and all the other protectionist facets of phoney job creation Trotter moots.
Yes. Being attacked by a luddite like Trotter shouldn't hurt at all.
Katherine Rich delivered her valedictory speech to parliament yesterday after three terms as a National MP.
Rich said her "annus horribilis" was 2005, when her disagreement over Brash's views on welfare led to her sacking as welfare spokeswoman and her temporary demotion from the front bench. "Demotion clearly wasn't a career highlight but it was preferable than trying to explain why I, a well-paid mother with all the supports in the world, intended telling a DPB (domestic purposes benefit) mum to leave her baby in childcare to net less than half the minimum wage," she said.
And in making the issue about herself she lost the battle.
Katherine's circumstances were, in fact, irrelevant.
At a recent Grey Power meeting two women talked to me afterwards. They broached the subject. We agree with the letters you write about the DPB, they said. We were both in favour of the DPB when it was brought in. We thought it would be good for mothers and their children. But it has gone too far. Too many are now choosing it as a lifestyle, they said. And that is not good for their children.
Simply put society cannot have it both ways. Unless the DPB incentives are removed the problem of child poverty - spiritual and material - will persist.
There is no need to punish those already on the DPB. But there is a desperate need to tell those who are not, that lifestyle welfare is no longer an option. We have to turn off the welfare tap as the first and most urgent action.
In Katherine's 2004 welfare paper, Saving the next generation from welfare dependency, she wrote;
National is the only party that can make and implement difficult welfare decisions.
Unfortunately she couldn't. Brash could have but that is now all a tragically lost opportunity.
But I wish her all the best for life post-parliament. I am sure she is relishing the prospect.
People I talk with or listen to are heartily sick of politics without policy. There is no sense of enjoyment or participation about the coming election. Most just want to see the back of it. The common complaint is, what about the important stuff? What about the things that matter? I've commented before about the media's role in that dearth.
So last night's debate about ICT policies was a refreshing experience and congratulations to TV7. It almost reinvigorated me. But why aren't we seeing more of this kind of debate? The contest of ideas instead of the interminable he said, she said, he did, she did stuff. A friend said to me yesterday about 90 percent of the New Zealand electorate is dysfunctional when it comes to governance and politics and thought they no longer deserved the time he had been putting in for years trying to spread better ideas.I hope he saw last night's debate. What a great result for ACT, especially after the supercilious, smarmier-than-smarmy-from-Palmie, David Cunliffe said nobody cares about what the leader of a 1 percent party thinks. Clearly they did.
Quote of the night from Nanny National;
Question; "Why should the taxpayer who can't even afford a PC pay for broadband to every home"
Maurice Williamson; "Because that's the way we deliver the new citizen of the future."
Somewhere a teacher works in an extremely high risk industry by night. Her health and her safety are however her business and so is how she chooses to earn an extra buck. By day she takes photographs of kid's lunch boxes and makes phone calls to parents warning them of the dangers of peanut butter sandwiches and fat-saturated chippies. At least that is what the Ministry of Education tells her to do.
When I was a kid I just couldn't get into Alice in Wonderland. Its preposterousness went beyond entertainment. So does this.
It seems to me that nobody would willingly argue with the Sensible Sentencing Trust's championing of victim's rights. However also given consideration must be potential victims and their rights to be safe.
Drugs are involved in a great deal of crime, whether they create an unquenchable thirst for money to fund habits leading to burglary and dishonesty crimes or they induce behaviour changes that lead to crimes of recklessness and/or violence or they are a mix of both. The traditional western response is to attempt to eradicate drugs, except where a majority also enjoy indulging in them ie alcohol. That attempted eradication is causing more crime than it is preventing.
If you don't believe me look at the one case whereby we have de facto legalising of a highly addictive drug - heroin. The methadone programme is accepted not as a great success in weaning people of heroin but as a effective deterrent to crime. This programme, which caters to over 4,000 addicts, sticks out like dog's. It is the one exception to the overriding rationale behind the war on drugs. But it would appear lawmakers refuse to learn anything from it.
Instead we continue to create more crime rather than reduce it by acceptance and accommodation of drug use. Hell's bells. What a wet liberal I will be labelled as. One of those pesky ACT liberals who cause problems for the ACT conservatives.
ACT appears to have linked itself to the SST. I have never seen or heard the Sensible Sentencing Trust back an end to prohibition. And any failure to do so actually condones the creation of more victims. Upping the ante will only worsen crime in New Zealand. Add to that the insane welfare policies NZ pursues (ACT's opposition to which is the main reason I support them) and we are never going to see the kind of safety and security alluded to at their law and order launch yesterday.
The Maori Party, meanwhile, reiterated its hopes of removing gst on food and scrapping tax on income under $25,000. Speaking on TV One's Agenda programme yesterday, Maori Party MP Hone Harawira dismissed suggestions that those two policies alone would cost $5 billion and said they could be funded by the tax on cigarettes.
I have blogged before about the flight of fantasy that masquerades as Maori Party policy.
The tax on cigarettes, last time I checked, is around $1 billion. A black market already exists. Massively hike up current taxation on cigarettes and tobacco and all that will happen is less tax will be collected. And the gangs will get another gift.
Perhaps Hone could arrange for that to be their Waitangi Tribunal settlement.
Yesterday I represented ACT at the Wellington Wairarapa School Trustees conference in Wellington. Other candidates on the panel were Allan Peachey, National MP and Education spokesperson, Grant Robertson, Wgtn Central Labour Candidate and Vaughan Smith, United Future Wgtn, who is the son of Murray Smith, Hutt South UF Candidate. Something of a breakthrough occurred for me when I was asked to speak for around 5 minutes and had nothing prepared. We were advised earlier it was a question and answer format but the chair, ex Listener writer Dennis Welch changed that.
Having two children in the education system - one in the state and one in the private system - and being a keen advocate for vouchers, made the task fairly easy. When I touched on the subject of secondary schools and lack of choice, namely the not uncommon reluctance to send one's child to Hutt Valley High, I was loudly interrupted by a school trustee from that board. It's a great school, she countered. The bad reports are all a media beat up, she said. I responded that I hadn't said it wasn't but it is TOO BIG. It does not suit every child's needs. That is the crux of the problem. State high schools take no account of children's individuality, needs and strengths.
Which took me into Rodney's championing of the Corelli School for Arts right down to accepting a part in their school production (when was the last time anyone wanted Trevor Mallard in their school play?) and why ACT's voucher policy would see schools like this flourish. As always there was considerable interest in the idea. Some cynicism, some approval but no hostility.
The ERO got a right royal drubbing and I now doubt their ability to provide the kind of vital information parents need. The decile rating system is still controversial with trustees worried about the low expectations decile 1,2 and 3 schools build in teachers. Low achievement was raised which I pointed out (at some length) is not going away while long term welfare dependence continues (which elicited some agreement). The lifting of the school leaving age wasn't sitting easily.
But the significant aspect of the 2 hour event was the leaning to the National MP. The Labour candidate was pushing it uphill. Allan Peachey is of course an expert in education given his background. He tackled the questions personally rather than as a party mouthpiece and was credible and sincere.
The mood for change goes beyond the poll indications.
Lindsay Mitchell has been researching and commenting on welfare since 2001. Many of her articles have been published in mainstream media and she has appeared on radio,tv and before select committees discussing issues relating to welfare. Lindsay is also an artist who works under commission and exhibits at Wellington, New Zealand, galleries.