Saturday, October 30, 2010

Today's offering

Regularly we are offered skinks, ghekkos, rats, mice, cicadas, birds. Frequently we sustain injuries in our attempts to save the lives of all creatures great and small. Even a kerereru, who is probably now part of a luxurious cloak after we lost that particular battle so delivered it amazingly intact to the local marae.

But this morning's delivery was a new one on me. Initially, from a distance, it appeared as a half eaten lizard with rigor mortis set in. Possibly unearthed overnight from some forgotten hiding place. Then I thought we had a miniature pre-historic beast on our hands. Come and look at this, I called out to the knowledgeable one.

Its a koura, he said, spelt k-o-u-r-a as in Kaikoura. A baby freshwater crayfish.

We abide at the foot of bush clad hills. A creek runs through the corner of our neighbour's property. Tom had been fishing. Here he is, saying to me, You should have seen the size of the one that got away Mum.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The business environment is very tough at the moment

Walking around Lower Hutt this morning I was shocked at how many newly empty retail spaces and 'for lease' signs there are in and around High St. The same goes for the industrial area of Seaview. So the following piece of news from Statistics New Zealand is no surprise;

Provisionally, the total number of businesses in New Zealand at February 2010 was 470,000, down 1.7 percent from 2009, Statistics New Zealand said today. This is the first decrease in the total number of businesses recorded over the past nine years.

That was at February 2010 and I think the environment has visibly worsened since then.

Of course people are always starting new ventures. I am renting some shop space in Eastbourne for (at least) the second two weeks of November where I will hopefully sell some paintings and pick up some commissions. It's a bit of a gamble but I am ever the optimist. And I do like the idea of trying to do my bit in increasing economic activity. Empty shops are such forlorn sights.

ALCP to contest Mana

It's very hard to get excited about a by-election between National and Labour but here's a brave fellow making some sense.

Cannabis Party Contest Mana By-Election Date

The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party is pleased to announce that Julian Crawford will be standing for the party in the Mana by-election. Mr Crawford is a political science graduate from Otago University. He also stood for the party in the 2008 General Election.

"Maori and Pacific Islanders are four times more likely to arrested for cannabis than Pakeha," says Mr Crawford. "Cannabis is a natural plant which is safer than alcohol, yet its prohibition has created criminals out of non-violent people, predominately Maori and Pacific islanders."

"The arrest of otherwise law abiding citizens for cannabis has broken up numerous families and the targeted arrest of Maori and Pacific Islanders has caused huge social harm to already poor neighborhoods."

"Only the Cannabis Party is prepared to reverse this social degradation and offer real job opportunities to struggling New Zealanders. Regulation of cannabis will add billions into the New Zealand economy each year while undermining the profits gangs and organised crime."

Most benefit applicants fit to work

What is happening in the UK to address the high number of people claiming benefits due to incapacity is probably going to happen here. One of the key changes, possibly picked up from the US, is applicants now have to be privately assessed. No longer will a note from GP, and a sign-off by a case manager suffice.

According to the Daily Mail only 51,000 people have been granted a benefit for long term disability or ill health in two years. That is crucial to fixing the problem. The most important action a government needs to take is not getting people off benefits. That is secondary. It is stopping them coming onto benefits.

Three-quarters of people who applied for new benefits for the long-term sick failed tests to prove they were too ill to work.

Out of about 840,000 who tried to obtain the £95-a-week Employment and Support Allowance, 640,000 were told they were fit for work, or withdrew their applications before they took the tests – suggesting they were ‘trying it on’.

Over the last 30 years the numbers on disability pensions, invalid benefits, etc have dramatically increased in many developed countries. There is now a concerted effort being made to reverse the trend. New Zealand needs to stop dragging the chain and start making similar efforts.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Latest benefit stats

The quarterly benefit stats have just been posted at MSD.

The statistical information is available by benefit type, region, and office. It is further broken down by age, gender, ethnicity, dependent children included on benefit, type of incapacity, percentage with declaration of earnings, etc.

No surprises regarding numbers, as per graph below.

The good news and the bad news about re-offending

I have a bad habit. I immediately suspect 'good news' stories.

NewstalkZB reported yesterday that even the Parole Board was surprised at the reduction of re-offending by prisoners out on parole.

Since 2002 the rate of offending while on parole has more than halved, Parole Board chairman Sir David Carruthers says these statistics are better than anticipated

Even the Parole Board it surprised at re-offending figures released today

In the past eight years the rate of offending while on parole has more than halved, from around 100 offences per month in 2002.

The 'good news' also makes the NZ Herald;

An analysis of Parole Board decisions shows that despite an increase in the number of parolees, the number of people committing crimes while on parole has more than halved - dropping from about 100 a month in 2002 to about 45 a month.

However, the graphs below, from the latest Corrections Annual Report show little change in re-offending across all prisoners. In fact the re-conviction rate is climbing.

So I am not sure how this squares with the 'good news' story.

Prisoners who do not get parole are re-offending more than those who do?

The re-offending rate jumps once off parole?

Or perhaps if prisoners are paroled later in their sentences then the period they spend on parole would be shorter and the opportunity to re-offend while on parole is reduced.

Whatever the answer is, a 'bad news' story must co-exist.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'Not taking' isn't the same as 'giving'

The problem with the New Zealand attitude is summed up in this headline:

Hobbit's makers want more money

The automatic interpretation of that sentence is that the Hobbit makers want to be given money when what they want is to keep money.

Not taking is not the same as giving.

It isn't a difficult distinction to grasp.

All the government has to decide between is a reduced share of the Hobbit profit or nothing.

And then they need to extrapolate that reasoning to tax-paying individuals who are also free to take their production elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The fight between the can-doers and the can't-doers

Sue Bradford blogs:

National is certainly on the offensive with its employment and welfare reforms, even proposing a law change specifically to benefit producers of The Hobbit; but it faces a new mood of resistance and dissent...

National is on the rampage right now. Many ordinary people continue to live in quiet desperation, struggling daily to stay fed, housed and healthy.

If there is any validity to drawing a parallel between what is happening over The Hobbit and welfare reform, I am encouraged. Most New Zealanders have spurned the unions over the first matter, recognising the real economic and social benefits this and other movies bring to the country. My hope is they will similarly get behind any worthy proposals that the Welfare Working Group produces early next year and reject the 'can't-do' objections from Sue Bradford's shadow group.

National's welfare reforms - hopeless

As a country, NZ rates very low on discipline. Talk is tough but actions rarely meet it. Our justice system is very soft when compared to the US, for instance. And sometimes I am glad of that. We have laws that don't get enforced eg the de facto decriminalisation of cannabis use. The US, on the other hand, locks up thousands for mild drug misdemeanours.

The US, however, applied the same discipline to welfare reform, notwithstanding some states are more rigorous in their rules and enforcement than others. At least by NZ standards they can be described as rigorous. When federal work participation requirements were stipulated, they were met. It is getting harder to meet them during the recession, and also because the numbers on welfare are so much lower. In terms of employability those remaining on welfare are the most difficult cases.

But what do we do in NZ?

Instead of simply applying a time limit to the DPB - with a prescribed low level of exemptions for certain cases - the government introduces a rule saying you must find, or at least look for, 15 hours of paid work per week when your youngest child turns six - one year after they have started school.

It's a 'soft' obligation. But the leftists loudly shriek 'hard'. In fact, it is the leftists who get the beneficiary populace worked up about actually having to do something in return for their benefit (like the rest of us have to do something in return for our incomes) so maybe there is an upside to the hysteria. Some people on the DPB start thinking that their ticket is up. Time to join the ranks of the employed.

Until it becomes apparent that the government didn't really mean it. Well, not you, not yet. On the day the new rules came into force the government announced:

Work testing will begin with 4,500 DPB recipients from today and Sickness Beneficiaries assessed as work ready, will be work tested from May next year.

The new (but soft) obligation is only being applied to 4,500 of the 43,000 plus who have children 6 or older(43,000 was the figure from February 2010 and will have risen in line with the rising total DPB population). So only around 1 in 10 of the eligible people are actually being work-tested.

Why is this? Nearly all individuals have the capacity to actively seek work on their own behalf. Perhaps the government thinks only Work and Income can fulfil that role. Yet as an employment agency they don't have the staff or openings to cope. Own goal.

Governments full well understand the value of 'sending a message'. Unfortunately, they have just sent another bad one. Again, we talk tough, but we don't mean it. We bring in stringent new rules but don't have the resources or the will to apply them.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Asians fight back

The Nelson Mail reports "Drunken violence" in the city on Friday night, but the headline could just as easily been "Racial violence".

Last night's incident involved five friends walking home who were approached by a group of nine others, believed to be of Asian descent, [Detective Sergeant] McCoy said...

"I think myself that for the first time, Asians have been outnumbering the others – that it was retaliation for someone being beaten up – not reported to the police, of course."

Does he wonder why an incident isn't reported to the police? Isn't it a futile exercise? Tit-for-tat behaviour might simply be more effective.

State housing changes - I am not holding my breath

There is a certain incongruity about National's plans to time limit tenancies in state houses ( apart from the fact that they can talk about time limits on state houses but not on benefits).

The Government will also look at moving on singles or couples who stay in their three, four and five-bedroom state homes long after children have left home.

Incentives would initially be offered to those people to either buy the house, or move into a smaller state house or private accommodation. But those who refuse to budge may be forced to do so.

"Apart from the vulnerable and elderly, there may be some compulsion around that," Mr Heatley said.

Yet Housing New Zealand has been spectacularly unsuccessful at moving on 3 Pomare families who presumably have broken their tenancy agreements. And this is just one high profile incident.

The house tenancies are in the names of the women. Housing New Zealand had served them with notices to quit their Farmer Cres homes about 18 months ago but the three women and their 13 children remain in the houses while legal action continues.

So I had another 'yeah right' moment when I read about National's promised 'tough' stance.

The tragedy is there are many, many vulnerable people living in state housing areas. People whose grasp on reality is tenuous. Mentally ill, de-institutionlised, isolated people who are forced to live alongside criminals, those in between prison spells. Amongst domestic violence and sometimes depravity. People who were humanely moved 'into the community' under the faulty assumption that all communities are kind and supportive.

Perhaps more pepper-potting would help but really, like welfare, it isn't policy settings as much as the very existence of these state monoliths.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Blood alcohol levels of fatally injured drivers 2008

The majority of drivers with fatal injuries were in the 0 - 0.03 category.

5 were in the 0.05-0.08 margin but 2 of those (15-19 year-olds) were already driving illegally. They can be excluded from estimates about saved lives because the assumption being made by those clamouring for a drop in BAC from 0.08 to 0.05 is that those driving legally would lower their intake if the law was changed.

As I have already commented on Kiwiblog, responding to the NZ herald's Two Drinks Max campaign, I never drink more than two at the current limit anyway. And there are probably a number of people who adopt that limit but don’t want to see 0.08 lowered. If we go to 0.05 the next call will be to go to zero. That will mean no drinking at all within 8 or so hours of driving. Anyone who had a few drinks the night before will probably be over the limit in the morning. And if you don’t think the revenue gatherers will exploit that, then you are wrong.

Administered 'p'?

The decision to charge a mother with administering 'p', a Class A drug, to her children is a bit of a worry. When I read the headline I thought she must have been directly dosing them with it in some form. But no. She was smoking it, not in their presence (her claim), but in their environment.

Administering a Class A drug carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

So the same potential offence is now being committed in every home with children where parents smoke cannabis, albeit a Class C drug. Any woman who smokes cannabis or 'p' or uses any other illegal drug while pregnant could also be charged for administering the drug.

And why is she being charged for administering 'p' but her partner is not?

Going off on a related tangent, what about a pregnant woman on the methadone programme? OK. Methadone, also highly addictive, is a Class B controlled drug but its effect on a foetus is arguably undesirable. (I say arguably because there is a school of thought that says withdrawal from opiates during pregnancy could be even more stressful for the foetus).

Personally I believe there is a significant difference between putting wine in a babies bottle and drinking wine while breast feeding. But both would result in traces of wine in the child's system. Alcohol is of course still legal (although the way this country is carrying on it shouldn't surprise if we don't head closer and closer towards prohibition). But the example serves as an analogy for the difference between active and passive. And degree.

If successful, this case will open all sorts of cans of worms.