Saturday, September 15, 2007

Australia - Adopt out children of drug addicts

An Australian parliamentary report has recommended adopting out children of drug addicts. The chair of the committee said, the children would benefit from being given "a real chance at life", instead of living with parents who only wanted them to claim welfare payments.

The report has created quite a stir. It also says that drug treatment programmes should be aiming to cure addictions and not funded if they aren't. Here and in Australia it would seem programmes tend to simply maintain people and reduce crime. Can a case be made for them even if they only do the second? I would have thought so but it doesn't follow the same people should be supported/encouraged to have families.

ACT polls 6% in Wellington

A new poll commissioned by the DomPost has regional breakdown of polling. While ACT's overall poll was still 1 percent the regional breakdown showed most of it was concentrated in Wellington with 1 percent in Auckland and 0 in Christchurch.

I find this result incredibly encouraging. This is the thinking vote. And if it is at the expense of any other party it is Labour. Those who understand politics understand where ACT fits into the spectrum as a liberal party. Well done to Heather and Rodney who are keeping it alive where they spend most of their time. If we can poll 6 percent in Wellington we can poll 6 percent in the other areas. No other minor party had a similar result (except perhaps the Greens getting 12 percent in Christchurch.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Regulation of risk

Yesterday I delivered my submission on the Regulatory Responsibility Bill. I focussed on the regulation of risk. The written submission is a little lengthy but the notes I used for the oral submission (I only had ten minutes) are below.

But first, funnily enough this morning I spotted this little piece in the DomPost which confirms something I mentioned in my written submission; the endless tinkering with the DPB legislation (part of the Social Security Act) because it wasn't properly scrutinised at the outset. The original Social Security Act (1938) gave certain groups a statutory entitlement to other people's money and the ensuing wrangling over it has been interminable.

Oral Submission notes for select committee - the regulation of risk

Accidents happen. The expression seems to have dropped out of common usage.But it’s time we started using it again and MPs and Ministers could take the lead.

When it comes to regulation of risk there should be a ‘do nothing’ option.

I don’t believe there can be any doubt that we are now over-regulated but it isn’t just this country.

I have taken the liberty of getting copies for each of you of a report written by members of the British Better Regulation Commission – Risk, Responsibility and Regulation. This book is full of examples of over-reactions to risk. For example dangerous dog legislation and mandatory school lunch box inspections. Some, as you would expect, mirror this country. I understand how stretched your time is but if you can read just one page have a look at page 34 entitled “Naked streets – handing back responsibility.”

In a nutshell the naked streets policy, originated in the Netherlands but adopted in some parts of Britain, involves removing road-markings, street signs, traffic signals etc. Counter-intuitively this has reduced speeds and accidents. Why? Simply because people become more careful and cautious when they aren’t being told what to do.

The ‘naked streets’ policy is a great analogy for remedying over –regulation in all sorts of areas.

But as MPs and Ministers, you may find resisting calls for government – spurred on by the media - to ‘do something’, near impossible. As the BRC points out, you are criticised for both intervening and for failing to act. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

What you need are mechanisms to demonstrate that more regulation might not be the answer. Britain has established the BRC to act as a watchdog and advisor to the public and government. We could do even better than that by adopting the Regulatory Responsibility Bill.

And you are going to need it. Leaving aside business regulation there will continue to be calls to regulate all social aspects of our lives – what we eat and drink, how we raise our children, and what we do with our money. You are going to face calls to ban;

Pokie machines, access to birth and death certificates, cigarette smoking, gang patches, direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, pies and sausage rolls in schools, the docking of dog’s tails, food advertising during children’s programmes, dangerous dogs, fireworks, artificial sweeteners etc, etc. A number of vocal lobbyists have an overwhelming faith that government should be involved in all of these areas.

But I don’t believe most MPs agree. You need some form of protection from those who want to misuse state power. For your own sake and that of future MPs I urge you to recommend this bill be passed.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Red/Green socialists stand in the Hutt

Out and about yesterday I noticed some new election signs with VAN on them. The only other things I took in were the featured candidate was quite young and he was promising free and frequent public transport and lower rates. That's right.

Of course my interest was slightly, just slightly tweaked.

Here is the rest of what VAN, Valley Action Network want;

"A Human City where people come before big business interests;

Action on climate change and zero tolerance for polluters;

Free Council services; Community Boards for all, with extra powers;

Free and frequent public transport;

Rates reductions for residents before greedy corporations."

This is mixed news. These people could be very handy. They will split the left vote. But they could also increase it.

It's a shame their obvious enthusiasm and energy - great name and website - are wasted on defunct ideas. People need business and business needs people. Period.

(I can agree with their policy of stopping rates remission to attract economic development which I have always opposed.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

There is still a glimmer of light

Thanks to Mike E for posting this. I have pinched it and savoured it. This is exactly what needs to be said in Parliament. Nothing could highlight better for me why I support ACT and why National does not get within a cat's whisker. Fantastic speech with an ironic interjection from Hone 'let's ban tobacco' Harawira and downright foolish interjections from Clayton Cosgrove.

First Reading

RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): It is very interesting to follow first of all Nandor Tanczos from the Green Party and then Judy Turner from the United Future party. It is interesting to compare the approaches, because within the two approaches I think we see the two extremes on this bill. I have to say that the *ACT party stands firmly beside the Green Party’s position. Let me just explain what Judy Turner’s position is. She and her party declared themselves here today to be prohibitionists, because she said that if we knew then what we know now, we would have banned alcohol and tobacco. What I like about Judy Turner and United Future’s position is that they are at least consistent. She says we should do is ban all new things that could hurt us, and once it is assumed by the *State that they are OK and Judy Turner says that they are OK, then people would be allowed to use them. So in Judy Turner’s conception, there would be no alcohol, there would be no tobacco, there would probably be no sugar, there would probably be no ice cream—
Hone Harawira: No rugby.
RODNEY HIDE: —certainly no rugby, and probably not a lot of fun, because we would have the “fun police” banning anything that might have some element of risk.
R Doug Woolerton: What a load of rubbish this is!
RODNEY HIDE: I could not agree with Doug Woolerton more that this bill is a load of rubbish.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Tell that to the mums and dads.
RODNEY HIDE: Well, Mr Clayton Cosgrove says I should tell that to the mums and dads. It is a very instructive thing that Mr Cosgrove came down to this House, as he was going to solve the problem of boy racers with legislation. So we got ourselves all into a fury, and I think it was the ACT party and the Green Party that voted against that, too.
We warned the Minister then that passing…
We warned the Minister then that passing legislation would not deal with the problem. Let me tell Mr Cosgrove, Mr Woolerton, and the mums and dads who are listening that we will not solve the drug problem in this Parliament. We will not solve the problem through prohibition. We will not solve the problem by passing laws. Mr Woolerton well knows, I think, that more harm is done by alcohol and tobacco than by party pills. More harm is done, and they are sitting there, banning something because of a perceived problem and because Judy Turner says that the horse has already bolted on alcohol and tobacco. But here is the real problem. Judy Turner went on to say that the Green Party goes on about people getting arrested and she asked whether that was the reason we should not have laws against violence. Actually, we have laws against violence because that is an infringement of other people’s rights. But for people who are taking benzylpiperazine or who are having a cigarette or drinking some alcohol, the damage they are doing is, in the main, to themselves and not to another human being, and there is a fundamental difference between the two.
Hon Member: Have a look at road deaths.
RODNEY HIDE: Well, road deaths are the same. That is why we have road rules, and that is why the ACT party supports road rules. Here is the next point. This Government—and, indeed, the previous National Government was worse—could not keep drugs out of our jails. We have people locked up, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, under heavy surveillance, and we cannot keep the drugs out. Yet we are sitting here in Parliament passing a law as though we can somehow keep drugs out of our streets, out of our pubs, and out of our communal places.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Live and let live.
RODNEY HIDE: I think that to live and let live is not a bad place to start, I say to Mr Cosgrove. It is better than having a policy of saying that we do not like it, so let us ban it and lock up anyone who disagrees with us. In fact, let us go further, I say to Mr Cosgrove, and say that if anyone even has a political disagreement with us, we should ban that person as well. We could say we will ban the party pills and we will ban political debate because they do not suit us. We could say that any people who disagree, who say that people might have some rights and responsibilities, and who say that they would rather live in a society where people had some choices apart from what the Government chooses, including the choice to make mistakes, should be banned. I am looking at Mr Woolerton. He has made a few.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why have laws, then—why have any laws?
RODNEY HIDE: Is it not a surprising thing that I hear a Minister of the Crown calling across the House: “Why have rules?”.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Because many rules don’t stop people doing wrong, do they?
RODNEY HIDE: Let me explain to Mr Cosgrove why we have rules and why we do not legislate for everything. We have rules in order to protect people’s rights and to uphold the rights of citizens in a free State. That is why we have rules, that is why we have a State, that is why we have a court system, and that is why we have police. We do not have rules to stop people in expressing their political views, to stop people taking risks, or to stop people making terribly stupid mistakes, because that is part of being an adult and a responsible human being. We cannot sit here in this House and legislate away all harm, as this Government thinks it can. We cannot actually legislate for good behaviour, but we can legislate in a way that protects people’s basic rights. I have to say that when we go beyond that, then I think that this Parliament overreaches itself. It suggests, somehow, that the Government and this Parliament are the solution to problems that we cannot solve.
Are we to live in a society that says that this Parliament will decide all the risk
Are we going to live in a society that says that this Parliament will decide all risk, that this Parliament will decide what is right and wrong, and that if Parliament has not banned it, it is OK to use—which is exactly what Judy Turner’s position was. I abhor drugs, actually. I do not understand why anyone would want to take any, as I think that the most wonderful thing in the universe is the human mind because of what it can grasp, comprehend, and conceive. I do not know why anyone would want to be taking drugs and playing with it. But my mind also says to me that we are barking up the wrong tree in thinking somehow that we can pass a law and ban party pills, and that prohibition will somehow work. I find it astonishing that in the year 2007 we have, with Judy Turner, a serious political party that is saying: “Oh well, you know, if we had our time again we would ban alcohol and cigarettes, and we would ban a whole number of things; it is just that at the time we didn’t think of it.” I have to say that that is not the sort of society I think that New Zealanders want to live in. I think that New Zealanders want to live in a society where they do have some freedom, that coming along with that freedom is some responsibility, and that it is not Parliament or Government that decides how they should live, what they should take, and what risks are acceptable to them. I look around this House and, from what I know of members, I know that we all went through a stage of being young once, of experimenting with things, and of taking risks. It is actually called growing up. But do we in this House somehow think that we can pass a law that will stop young people from experimenting and trying different things? What I truly despise about this law is that it wraps up all drugs as being the same, and I think that that is the terrible message this law is sending our young people. But the message I have for the mums and dads of New Zealand, I tell Mr Cosgrove, is that all drugs are not the same, and I fear for young people. I am afraid that I know people who have had the experience where they have tried drugs this Parliament has banned, and have said: “Well, that wasn’t so bad. That didn’t kill me. What Parliament and the Government said about that drug isn’t true.”, and they have gone on to try other drugs. So I believe that we are doing a harm with this legislation—we are not doing good.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Doctors disagree with you.
RODNEY HIDE: Well, it is all right, I tell Mr Cosgrove. This is Parliament and he is allowed to disagree. It is also the case that we are also allowed to explain our view—to explain why the ACT party is opposing this bill and voting against it. Thank you.

BZP - banning more dangerous than using

National MP Jacqui Dean really does take the biscuit. She is fully aware of what banning BZP will do.

"We don't want to see this industry going underground, where backyard manufacturers operate without restrictions, and where the ingredients in pills are totally unregulated. New, untested, alternatives are reportedly already on the horizon. Potentially, that puts the public at even greater risk."

The existing and ongoing failure of drug law enforcement guarantees that the above is a sure fire development.

Thanks National.

The causes of "poverty" in the developed world

The following is an interview about "poverty" in the US. The same questions and answers would broadly apply to New Zealand or any other welfare state.

Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation is a national authority on poverty and the U.S. welfare system. Specializing in welfare reform and family breakdown, Rector has done extensive research on the economic and social costs of welfare.

With presidential candidates of a certain hue decrying the suffering of the 37 million Americans who have been officially classified as poor by the U.S. Census Bureau, we thought we'd ask Rector if these poor people are really as poverty-stricken as we have been led to believe. I talked to the author of “America's Failed $5.4 Trillion War on Poverty” Thursday, Sept. 6, by telephone from his office in Washington:

Q: John Edwards and others lament that 37 million Americans struggle with incredible poverty every day. You say it is not so simple or accurate to think of them as truly poor. What do you mean?

A: Well, when John Edwards says that one in eight Americans do not have enough money for food, shelter or clothing, that’s generally what the average citizen is thinking about when they hear the word “poverty.” But if that’s what we mean by poverty, then virtually none of these 37 million people that are ostensibly poor are actually poor. In reality, the government runs multiple surveys that allow us to examine the physical living conditions of these individuals in great detail.

When you look at the people who John Edwards insists are poor, what you find is that the overwhelming majority of them have cable television, have air conditioning, have microwaves, have two color TVs; 45 percent of them own their own homes, which are typically three-bedroom homes with 1{1/2} baths in very good recondition. On average, poor people who live in either apartments or in houses are not crowded and actually have more living space than the average person living in European countries, such as France, Italy or England.

Also, a lot of people believe that poor people are malnourished. But in fact when you look at the average nutriment intake of poor children, it is virtually indistinguishable from upper-middle-class children. In fact, poor kids by the time they reach age 18 or 19 are taller and heavier than the average middle-class teenagers in the 1950s at the time of Elvis. And the boys, when they reach 18, are a full one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs storming the beaches of Normandy. It’s pretty hard to accomplish that if you are facing chronic food shortages throughout your life.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Getting tougher?

In 1972 there were 15,500 on sickness and invalid benefits (pop 2.9 million). Today there are around 125,000. If there is one thing that is needed to curtail the constant growth in sickness and invalid benefits it is tightening eligibility.

Just announced, as of September 24th people will be able to qualify for either of these benefits with a certificate from their GP. Go figure.

More perspective needed

I am just listening to a discussion on talkback about young drivers and lifting the legal age for driving. Here again there is a lot of hysteria about young drivers and fatalities but the statistics are getting better. The performance of 15-19 year-old drivers has improved significantly. Twenty years ago they accounted for 16.9 percent of accidents involving fatalities. Last year they made up 11.7 percent. An even bigger drop applies to 20-24 year-olds from 22.2 to 11.9% percent. Perhaps some attention should be paid to older age groups.

Here's the overall road crash picture;

Another immigration debacle

This is a story which will bubble out beyond the provinces. There are times when rules defy all logic. The area of immigration sees more than its fair share of these occasions. A young South African mother whose marriage to a Kiwi broke down last year is being refused permission to stay in New Zealand. She and her South African-born 5 year-old daughter must return home leaving her younger son in New Zealand. The father will not give permission for him to leave. She has been working as a caregiver in residential care for the elderly and is strongly backed by her employees who say they have lost others to new immigration rules. Namely being a caregiver does not qualify one for a work permit. Can someone tell immigration that caregiving is a growth industry and the demand will skyrocket in the coming years.

Monday, September 10, 2007

John Key - dismally hopeless again

Here's why.

Dear Editor

Your report about opposition to Cindy Kiro's home-screening plan (September 10) re-iterates New Zealand's "shocking" child abuse statistics. The hyping of child abuse statistics and use of emotive adjectives look like persuading New Zealanders that universal monitoring of children is now fait accompli. But the facts are child deaths due to maltreatment are falling and only 10.2 per 1,000 children had a substantiated finding of abuse (most commonly emotional) or neglect against them in the year to June 2007. One percent of all children.

National Party leader John Key says mandatory investigation of all children should be a last resort. It shouldn't be any resort. It is a foolish waste of time and money. With both Labour and National welcoming the proposed database to track the development of all children, increasingly we are being offered no political opposition and no choice. Will there be any point in staging an election next year?

Lindsay Mitchell

Childcare is about choice

Conservatives want children to be parented in the home and it should be paid for by the state. Bob McCroskie of Family First put the case in today's NZ Herald.

My response;

Childcare is about choice

Bob McCoskrie argues that full-time parenting is a child's right so no parent should be forced to work to survive financially. The same argument was probably put in the seventies when politicians were considering what to do about the growing number of unpartnered mothers. Then the argument won the day and delivered the domestic purposes benefit - the statutory right for any single parent to be paid a living wage out of the Consolidated Fund.

Now it would appear conservatives want to extend that payment to all parents based on the their belief that childcare is bad for children - childcare being any care other than that provided by the parent. McCoskrie has presented ample research to support his case from United States, Canadian and English institutions but ignored a New Zealand report - Influences of Maternal Employment and Early Childhood Education on Young Children's Cognitive and Behavioural Outcomes. It reviewed both domestic and international studies and concluded that maternal employment in itself had no negative or positive effects on children. Negative impacts for children arose from early, extensive and poor quality non-maternal care combined with poor quality home care. Further studies have shown, unsurprisingly, that children from poor homes can benefit from good quality daycare.

This doesn't concern the big state conservatives because it doesn't fit with their theory that all and any childcare is bad. In fact, to acknowledge that some parenting is poorer than childcare really queers their pitch because it is often the parenting already paid for by the state that falls short of desirable standards. We are not short of recent examples.

In truth it isn't possible to make blanket statements about the effects of childcare because the care - the type and amount of - is as varied as children and their responses. McCoskrie's "A child's place is in the home" is one such statement. It's a 'we know best' approach. Which is somewhat ironic coming from one of the staunchest opponents of nanny state's recent attempts to tell parents how to raise their children by outlawing smacking. Now Mr McCroskie wants to tell parents how best to raise their children by not using childcare.

And worse, he wants the state to furnish his ideology. The cost would run into the billions while simultaneously the workforce would shrink. Treasury hasn't been calling for higher participation in the workforce by women because it wants to damage children. It does so because New Zealand badly needs to lift its productivity. A strong economy has benefits for everybody.

Additionally, now would be a particularly bad time for New Zealand to deplete its workforce because of our ageing population and the demands that will incur. McCroskie would probably argue that the country needs to produce more children but we already produce more children than nearly every other developed country. Those that offer the kind of assistance he wants - Estonia, Germany and the Czech Republic - are struggling with fertility rates.

There are no good economic or sound social reasons to turn our backs on childcare. It's part of the modern economy and makes a positive contribution to people's ability to make choices that suit their individual circumstances. A childs place in not unequivocally in the home and neither is a mother's.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Child abuse - keeping perspective

David Farrar has written about Kommissar Kiro's desire to inspect the homes of every New Zealand child. He describes "how desperately bad our child abuse story is," with its "barbaric toll."

I say every life lost (and the intolerable lead up to the loss) is a gut-wrenching waste BUT let's summarise the facts;

- the number of deaths due to intentional injury is decreasing

- the notifications for child abuse are increasing, as are substantiated findings

- however, those findings include in descending order emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse

- the majority of notifications do not result in a substantiated finding

- about 10 children (or 1 %) in 1,000 have a finding of some sort of abuse or neglect against them

- the rate of abuse for Maori children is around three times higher yet even their child deaths due to maltreatment are decreasing

- the high number of Maori children dying at the hands of their young mothers was documented in the 50s and 60s

Can we have some perspective here. Most mothers already willingly let Plunket into their homes. Forcing those who don't to accept state interference is enough to make them go underground. I am not kidding. Many are already transient and lawless.

And I won't even go into the problem of where these children will be put after removal. That can be literally out of the the frying pan and into the fire.

By Pakeha standards many Maori children would be categorised as neglected. This lack of supervision is however the norm in some whanau and even wider communities. It isn't necessarily life threatening. Good god. Some kids could do with a bit more time away from paranoid, over fussy mothers.

I'm not talking about kids in P houses. I'm talking, for instance, about children where mothers are working and sometimes the care falls to older siblings. I go back to my own childhood when my mother worked full-time and with four children; we looked out for each other. Yes, times are different but a lot of the hysteria now afoot is manufactured. It's quite sickening and DPF is a prime example of how reasonable and intelligent people can be (grudgingly) suckered into accepting the machinery of state to all-knowingly handle 'epidemics'. (Sorry David.)

Let's focus on where the known problems are.