Saturday, November 22, 2008

Not looking through rose coloured glasses

A letter to The Guardian posted at Samizdata

Dear Ms Featherstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wowsers wasting money hand over fist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

From Dysfunction to Death

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

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

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

When is this madness going to end?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Govt health warning

Something you definitely wouldn't get in Singapore;

John's Key's " first crisis"

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

Key says;

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

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

Controlling what benefits can be spent on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The extreme authoritarianism of the SST

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

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

1/ Who defines 'substance abuser'?

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

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

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

Nia Glassie - Why?

First her father;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the compassionate and caring society.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Running the Social Development show

I was going to take a wait-and-see approach to Paula Bennett. But then I read the following;

She [Paula Bennett] expects her associate minister, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, to be instrumental.

"She and I share a belief that all children are our children. That means the good, the naughty, the broken and the cherished. We've talked about that many times, and I've got no doubt that's the understanding we will bring to the role. She will play a big role. She's got experience and some really firm views on what we need to do for Maori people."

How many times have you heard a collectivist say, it takes a village to raise a child?

I beg to differ.

It takes one committed individual. That commitment means wanting the child, being prepared to make sacrifices and lifestyle changes for that child, being able to support it financially, being able to provide stability and structure, and above all, being prepared to make it the centre of your world.

The very existence of the DPB diminishes the prospects all of these and I am deeply upset that we now have a Minister and Associate Minister of welfare who are going to defend it as a legitimate means to having and raising children, even if it is less than ideal.

National's work-testing policy for mothers whose youngest is 6 is a very weak policy, it's major pitfall being a failure to cap the number of children. But it wouldn't surprise me to see Turia oppose even that. She has a self-admitted conservative streak and would rather see mothers stay at home and she doesn't care who pays for it.

So I am very despondent about this development. Under this administration we are going to see greater entrenchment of the DPB. The numbers will go up. The number of teenagers taking it up will continue to increase. Having a Minister who was a teenager on the DPB but made good, romanticises and legitimises it.

Real life however repeatedly shows that the social problems running the gamut of inherited benefit dependence through to crime and tragedy are backgrounded by teenage birth (particularly adolescent) coupled with welfare upbringings. Maori are over-represented in the phenomenon.

And let's not forget what the new Associate Minister's attitude is to people who say the kinds of things I do.

"I am intolerant of the excessive focus on controlling our fertility."

What's wrong with individuals controlling their own fertility? Isn't that what personal responsibility is all about?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The CPAG will be delighted

Later today I will link to the media release the Child Poverty Action Group issues in reaction to Tariana Turia being made Associate Minister of Social Development. They will be delighted. Their first pick might have been Sue Bradford in a Labour-led government but given their major issue over the past few years has been opposing Labour's In Work payment going solely to working parents, a Labour government may not have been their choice.

The Maori Party and the Greens were the only parties to publicly back the CPAG's court action. Tariana's solution to the relative poverty that many Maori children experience is to increase benefits. John Key has given her a role in which she can promote that solution. (This is a perfect example of what Rodney Hide means when he says Key, on some issues, is to the left of Clark and there was no need for him to apologise).

The point of the In Work payment is in its name. It was introduced by Labour to encourage mainly sole mums to move into part-time work or increase their existing hours. That is because they believed that work was the best way out of poverty.

The Maori Party have fostered a strong impression that they agree with that. But when push comes to shove you will find they do not. Remember Tariana's words during the campaign. Working for welfare did not include Maori women.

Campbell: You’re saying welfare is bad for Maori, so we have to break the cycle by introducing a compulsory element -

Turia : We’re talking Maori unemployed. We’re not talking about Maori women on benefits.

Sharples has also insisted that single parents are to be supported.

Dr Sharples said he was not promoting a crackdown on the domestic purpose benefit, for "we have a culture of accepting solo parents, [and] we have to take care of them".

The Maori Party falls into the trap of putting the short term interests of children ahead of their long term. All the evidence points to raising benefits drawing more people onto them.

Will National do the same? Writing in The Press earlier this year John Minto commented;

Interestingly, the CPAG report launch was attended by the National Party's flinty social welfare spokeswoman, Judith Collins, who listened silently through the presentations. It could be that National, in its attempts to brand itself as compassionate and caring, will develop some policies to outflank Labour on the Left.

The 'flinty' Judith Collins isn't going to get welfare though because it seems Key considers her too 'hard line'. That in itself could signal a softening on this particular policy.

It will be a strange business when we have the Labour opposition calling for National not to make benefits more generous. But I think that is what we are in for.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Agreement

What I like about it is the clarity and the language. ACT has done very well in covering all of its identified priority policies and getting a commitment to action on each. Great result in that respect.

But there are a few of things ACT has signed up for which I do not like. That's compromise for you I guess. That's the difference being being in government or not.

From the Key Commitments;

Maintain and build New Zealand’s asset base by increasing investment in infrastructure such as roads, broadband and public transport, and by not selling Kiwibank or any other state-owned company.

I oppose state ownership of banks and disagreed with Key's broadband roll-out to every home. Huge expenditure for questionable gain.

Give families financial certainty by continuing all Working for Families payments at current levels...

WFF is a bad policy. It breaches not only ACT's but National's stated values. It should be abolished.

Give seniors financial certainty by keeping the age of eligibility of NZ Superannuation at 65.

The qualification age for Super should rise given ever-extending life expectancies. If the qualifying age for Super was set to match the average periods spent on the aged pension in 1900, the eligibility would now be well into the seventies for men and pushing 80 for women. Not that I am advocating a rise to those sorts of levels.

And from the Post Election Action Plan;

Introduce legislation to require DNA testing for every person arrested for an imprisonable offence.

This is wrong. The state has no right to take DNA samples before a person has been tried and convicted.

Introduce legislation to give police the power to issue on-the-spot protection orders to help them protect victims of domestic violence.

This will be abused by women who want the law to intervene in troublesome situations that do not warrant it. It will be used to achieve personal vendettas.

Instruct that a full 12-month course of Herceptin be publicly available.

I have reservations about overriding Pharmac on Herceptin funding as it sets a dubious precedent. We now have control of expenditure by political noise. But that could work in a negative fashion eg undoing funding of things like the morning-after pill. Of course, I would rather Pharmac ceased to exist but as it is not going anywhere, caution must be exercised in opening it up to less-than-expert lobbyists.

There is one error which results in ambiguity. The word 'eliminating' should replace 'elimination'.

National agrees to work with ACT to achieve better value for money in the public sector by:
• Involving the ACT Leader Rodney Hide as a member of the Cabinet Expenditure Control Committee process. A focus of this work should be on elimination programmes that do not deliver value for money.

It will be now most interesting to compare this agreement to that between National and the Maori Party.

Acknowledging the politics that hinder welfare reform

David Cameron, UK leader of the Conservatives, gave this speech earlier in the year.

Today, there are almost five million people on benefits and out of work.... 2.6m people on incapacity benefit is not right.... the first reason reform hasn't happened before is that one vital step - reform of sickness benefits - could mean an increase in the unemployment figures and that's bad PR for any Government.

Just like here where the sickness and invalid benefits, now totalling in excess of 130,000 individuals, have been masking real unemployment. National's leadership needs to be as forthright as its UK counterpart and start by explaining the politics behind welfare reform resistance.

Try as I may, I just can't hear it in my head.

And that instinct is confirmed by this little tidbit regarding Key's new cabinet line up;

One likely surprise is that Judith Collins, the party's social welfare spokeswoman, is unlikely to get the social welfare portfolio - a sign, perhaps, that Key did not want a hardliner in that role.

No. Let's not go anywhere remotely near the truth. I do not always agree with Judith Collins but she would have a better handle on the problems than Paula Bennett. What a waste of 4 years getting to know the issues, only to be turfed out of playing any part in fixing them.

What about the ETS?

But what about the ETS?


Here is the relevant text from the agreement,

National agrees to a review by a special select committee of Parliament of the current Emissions Trading Scheme legislation and any amendments or alternatives to it, including carbon taxes, in the light of current economic circumstances and steps now being undertaken by similar nations.

National further agrees to pass forthwith an amendment to the ETS legislation delaying its implementation, repealing the thermal generation ban and making any other necessary interim adjustments until the select committee review is completed.

ACT is not opposed to New Zealand adopting responsible climate change policies. What it opposes is an ETS that was never adequately justified. If a rigorous select committee inquiry establishes a credible case that New Zealanders would benefit from action by New Zealand, in conjunction with other countries that are important to us, ACT would be prepared to support legislation giving effect to such action.

Good. Delaying its implementation is a good start.