Saturday, June 12, 2010

Armstong moots a Machiavellian Minister

John Armstrong's interpretation of Paula Bennett's comment that during the Welfare Working Group forum we could see an "ugly side" of NZ is a way from mine. He paints the comment as a manipulative attempt to ostracise the left. I felt it could just as easily be aimed at people like me loosely characterised as libertarian extremists or misinterpreted as racist. Paula Bennett and I are not buddies. She has only once communicated to me directly and that was as an MP and ex DPB recipient, and was a criticism of a media release I issued.

There are a whole bunch of people who seem to think there is some sort of conspiracy occurring, John Armstrong included. I don't know what the word for this psychological phenomena is but where I would once have participated I now observe it. If you have ever worked your way up through large organisation for instance, at the bottom you imagine that management are in cohorts and have a plan. They are invulnerable and omnipotent. As you get closer to the top you understand that you are not necessarily dealing with a group of like-minded individuals at all but individuals with their own agendas, ideas, and varying abilities to make those ideas come to fruition.

I don't believe that National has a radical plan for welfare at all. Various players will be making it up as they go, some winning, some losing. But political inertia is a strong force. Back to Armstrong;

Bennett's remarks should have rung alarm bells in the institute's ivory towers about the highly divisive direction in which the welfare working group's work is likely to move. Rebstock's paternalistic talk of the current system locking "many people" into life on a benefit which "robs them of their potential" is the giveaway of the kind of agenda operating here.

What Rebstock said is undeniable. But not only does it rob people of their potential, it robs their children.

Such talk also does not equate with the facts. Ministry of Social Development data shows those getting the domestic purposes benefit number about 110,000.

But that disguises the stream of sole parents flowing in and out of that category. About 31,000 people signed up for the DPB in the year to March. But in the same period nearly 26,000 came off it.

And? What about the other 80-odd thousand? What about the ones I focus on, who go onto a benefit pitifully young, 16 and 17 year-olds, and stay there for many years continuously, or habitually cycle on and off? And he ignores that most of the people signing onto the DPB are either transfers or returners.

...The figures suggest the current system does not lock people into benefits and that people want to work, but the determining factor is the state of the labour market.

If everyone wanted to work why was the drop on DPB numbers during the economic boom, when NZ had the lowest unemployment rate in the OECD, so small? Because people lack skills and self-discipline; because they lack confidence; because benefits can pay more and offer more security; there are myriad reasons, only one of which is there isn't a job for them.

Armstrong doesn't understand what he is writing about in more ways than one.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A wrap on the forum and a rap on the knuckles

The 2 day Welfare Working Group conference was not an uplifting experience. My sense was that most of the delegates were lobbyists from organisations that favour greater redistribution and the state playing the quintessential role in the lives of New Zealanders. If not, those were the delegates making themselves most evident.

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

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Welfare Working Group forum - briefly

There was a great deal to absorb at yesterday's forum (continuing today). But reports thus far contrast. For instance the Green MPs are protesting their exclusion (ironically their not-wanted, Sue Bradford, was invited.) Yet all MPs were excluded. Read Catherine Delahunty's take on matters then compare it to Simon Collins, who was there.

At the end of Day One they tell us it is feels like a closed conversation promoting the Government’s agenda. They tell us that it was opened by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett who said she was there to listen and then promptly left. The keynote speakers have been advocates for a range of depressingly draconian welfare ideas from time-limited benefits to turning welfare into ACC.

My contacts tell me this discussion is ridiculously 1990s and is an attack on the fundamental principles of welfare which include supporting the vulnerable and the poor.

NZ Herald;

An international expert has upset the Government's welfare reform agenda by proposing a universal child allowance to tackle child poverty.

The head of social policy for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Dr Monika Queisser, told a forum organised by the Government's Welfare Working Group yesterday how New Zealand was "out of step with other countries".

She backed up the working group's agenda of addressing New Zealand's relatively high rate of sole parents on benefits and rapidly growing numbers on invalid benefits. But she surprised officials by listing "high child poverty" as a third big issue for New Zealand social policy.

She said New Zealand could be proud of having one of the OECD's lowest poverty rates for the elderly, with only 2 per cent of over-65s living on less than half the median after-tax income here compared with an OECD average of almost 14 per cent...

Child poverty campaigners at the forum welcomed her surprise suggestion. Massey University professor Mike O'Brien said: "They have put some stuff on the table that I don't think the minister wanted to hear."

Unfortunately time does not allow me to comment extensively. A universal child benefit is the last thing we need. With benefits and WFF, the targeted assistance is already well up the scale of income. It is frustrating to listen to experts on the international scene who are not familiar with the NZ situation. Some presenters didn't quite address the question put to them, and others used fairly old statistics. A degree of misinformation and misapprehension has been in evidence amongst delegates (and at least one presenter). But there have been some very interesting perspectives. A demographer from Waikato University is worth heeding. And 81 year-old head of the Kohanga Reo Trust, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, gave a blinder about more money not being the answer to Maori problems. Paula Rebstock impressed me with her grasp of the breadth of dependence as a grave problem and has caused me to be more hopeful for where the group might go with their recommendations. The many presentations will all be available on the net.

Today, in one of the plenary sessions, I address the question they put to me; Should NZ adopt the sole parent benefit policies of other countries?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Welfare Working Group forum

The Welfare Working Group kicks off an exploratory (my word) forum today at Victoria University. So I'll be tied up for the next couple of days. The programme is here.

I leave you with a letter that appeared in yesterday's Hutt News. It's a response to Frank Macskasy's letter of last week, from someone with an entirely different perspective.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Banks jumps on the band wagon

If there is any upside to the constant banging on about alcohol, it's the relief from the banging on about P and cannabis.

And I wonder if there isn't an unintended and opposite reaction to all the highly public and prolific angst alcohol is creating. Any publicity is good publicity? I am learning more from the protestors about what is available and how cheap it is then from any other source.

...on Bairds Rd a 330ml bottle of bourbon and cola recently cost $2 - that is almost $1 less than a bottle of water in many shops.

Thanks for the plug Mr Banks.

The following at least provides a smile;

Rangitata "buddy" MP for Labour, Ruth Dyson, said she was impressed by the community response.

"It was really great to hear about so many people turning out to that public meeting, and putting forward such a strong view."

Ms Dyson was not sure whether she would vote in favour of raising the minimum purchase age

Monday, June 07, 2010

Got them back

Yes, it's all a bit boy-scoutish but I got my PPL wings back and I am feeling very pleased about it. The endeavour has, however, pretty much excluded paying attention to anything else.

The weather was atrocious yesterday but I saw an opportunity to get the paperwork done and pick my instructor's brains with no good reason for him to escape. No other fool would be up there. I was right. The place was virtually deserted. We spent an hour or so reviewing the work I had done surrounding the calculating take-off and landing distances, calculating the load sheet, re-learning emergency procedures, etc etc. Around 11 am we were about to give up on the weather when a faint lightening of the skies to the north produced a glimmer of hope. The visibility progressively cleared and the cloud base was high enough for the exercises I still had to complete; a precautionary landing and a forced landing.

So the hanger doors were pulled back and Foxtrot Golf Uniform wheeled out. I am sentimental about FGU because it is the aircraft I took my first lesson in way back in 1986.

We started with shortfield take off which involves sitting on the brakes with the engine at full power, letting it go and rotating (lifting off) at only 50 kts to climb steeply at 54. This manoeuvre is to allow a take-off in a short run and clearance of any impediments ahead. It's a very nose-high attitude.

It was much bumpier than early in the week but that's good. You know you are flying. We tracked up the coast low level and picked a field to simulate a precautionary landing. Was a time that you could go down to very low heights in a low flying area south of the Otaki river but with the advent of complaining lifestyle-blockers that is no longer possible. So it's a bit unsatisfactory but you demonstrate that your judgement is such that you can put it down in said field if the need arises (exceedingly bad weather and visibility). This is done with power which I actually find harder than without because you have to fly around in a bad weather configuration - 10 degrees of flap at 70 kts. Trickier to control. But it went OK. And good thing it did because the sky to the west was starting to look somewhat blue-black and threatening.

So we headed south and climbed up to 3,000ft above the airfield with the intention of doing the forced landing directly below. The wind aloft had picked up considerably. The instructor has a GPS and can measure our progress over ground. He pulled the power and it is my job to get us on the ground safely. I turned unto wind and trimmed for a glide of 60 knots. But we weren't descending very fast. In fact the wind was is so strong that we were almost flying backwards. (That is technically possible because the plane flies relative to the body of air - think the guy who recently crossed the Tasman who some days lost ground).

Instructor suggests, perhaps you will need a faster glide speed. This is very counter-intuitive when making a forced landing because you are all the time trying to conserve height and give yourself time to do a number of things as well as THINK.

So I pushed the nose down turning towards my downwind point and started losing height very rapidly. This combined with a great deal of drift meant I missed the 1500ft point and aimed for 1,000ft. I wasn't worried. To be honest my aim is always to judge instinctively. Although it was all happening a little faster than usual I got through the power restoration checks, the Mayday call, the passenger briefing, the shutdown checks and the radio calls for local traffic. I rounded on to finals where I wanted to be, lowered the last degrees of flaps before shutting down the electrics (simulation) and landed better than at any of my previous efforts. We immediately applied full power to go around, took off again to do one more circuit, this time with a flapless landing (learned in case of electrical failure). By now the wind was really switching and the last landing had a strong crosswind component. More good practice. You come in crabbed and then straighten out just before landing. I was slightly too fast because it was flapless but again I felt well in control, flared at the right moment and landed reasonably gently. And that was it.

We taxied back and then I did the stupidest thing. Turned off the engine using the ignition. A no-no. The engine is always shut down by starving it of fuel; over-leaning the mixture. What got into my head, I don't know. Momentarily I behaved as though I was in a car. Have never done this before in nearly 300 hours of flying.

But I was forgiven. I guess I had satisfied the instructor that I was safe, if not prone to the odd blond moment (like when I suggested the alternator belt was driving the prop???).

So now I can fly to my hearts content, and take passengers. The only constraining factor is money. There's always a catch.