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.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NZ "suffering from policy paralysis" ...still


The number of people on the unemployment benefit is dropping, but numbers claiming the sickness and domestic purposes benefits are increasing at an alarming rate, according to Margaret Bazley, director-general of Social Welfare. She told delegates at a youth justice conference in Wellington last week that an extra 5,000 people a year were signing up on the DPB.

Other stats from her speech: 268,000 NZ children live in welfare-dependent homes, 30% of children live in sole-parent homes, and 76% of children in sole-parent families were in the lowest income group.

Source -- The Daily News 1 November 1996 "Welfare Boss: Dependence increasing" by NZPA


Former Finance Minister Ruth Richardson has been on the campaign trail to promote her political memoir, Making a Difference. She believes that NZ is suffering from policy paralysis. Her prescription: A dose of social reform including a six-month time limit on the unemployment benefit, the abolition of the domestic purposes benefit for those unmarried mothers who had not been in an established relationship, a rise in the age of eligibility for superannuation to 70yrs, a voucher system for education, and further privatisations including the sell-off of all state houses and health care. Ms Richardson doesn't believe her proposals would be difficult to sell politically, but "they would need leadership".

Source - The Dominion 30 September 1995 "Cut dpb and limit dole, says Richardson"

Nearly fifteen years on, my oldest child's lifetime, and nothing much has changed....
Ruth was right. NZ is suffering from policy paralysis.