My own presentation left a lot to be desired and I am rapping myself over the knuckles hard. It began OK but a slide was missing midway which made me lose the sense and direction momentarily. There was quite palpable hostility to my statements which came pouring out during Q and A. A number of Maori, including Cindy Kiro objected to my labelling Maori a minority group and framing the Maori teenage birth rate as a problem. She described my depiction of their birth rate as "unsophisticated", though I am unsure why. The slide showing rates per 1,000 15-19 year-olds from the early 90s to the present was correct in every sense. I was asked for the absolute numbers and didn't have them at my fingertips and made an inaccurate guess which I quickly realised was an error. No excusing that. Lesson to learn. Never guess under pressure. A Catholic representative went on the offensive about abortion and the potential for reform to increase the rate. Would I be happy with that?? No. (In fact the US abortion rate had been increasing before the reforms and declining since but I didn't have that information at the ready). A demographer pointed out that the teenage birth rate was much lower than in the early 70s. Yes, it was, I agreed. But those babies were mainly born within marriage (audible audience hiss) or a supportive relationship and did not go on benefits. My assertions that the US reforms led generally to lower single parent poverty and higher single parent employment were claimed to be non-factual. I cited my source, the US Census Bureau.
It was unclear to me whether the hostility was more towards me or towards the US. Probably a combination of both.
And I was out of step with the OECD presenters who had put up the case that work-testing when children are young correlates to higher employment rates as seen in countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden. My presentation was about how the NZ pathway to long-term DPB dependence is frequently through teenage birth and we should look at similar countries, namely the US. Scandinavian countries do not have to grapple with that particular problem.
If you have a look at what Sue Bradford was saying yesterday, and imagine a audience far more representative of her views than mine, you'll get the picture.
Ms Bradford said shifting to an insurance system here would overturn "a fundamental principle of the 1938 Social Security Act, that there is a community responsibility for making sure that people are helped when economic conditions mean they are unable to help themselves".
She predicted that when insurance payments ran out people would be forced into begging, crime, prostitution or death.
The same alarmist admonitions that opponents of the US reforms (which weren't to their insurance programmes but to their basic social assistance) put forward. Yet the US crime rate is going down. The physical child abuse and neglect rate has dropped. When I put this to the audience at my presentation antagonists reverted to the correlation/causation argument.
However, I will pick myself up, shake myself off and carry on. The best advocate for real reform I may not be, but we are in short supply. The big state, pro-welfarists are not.
Up date: Some NZ Herald coverage of the session by Simon Collins