Saturday, March 04, 2023

Racial discrimination in the public service

In a publication called "Engaging All New Zealanders survey report: Children in New Zealand Communities 2022" commissioned by Oranga Tamariki and administered by NielsenIQ, the results are presented in a fashion that makes Asian and New Zealand European participants almost invisible.

Just under 1,600 people aged 18 and over answered the survey. The results were then weighted to roughly represent the population. NZ European 71%; Maori 13%; Pacific 6%; Asian 15% and other <1 (The percentages do not tally to 100 percent as some respondents have more than one ethnicity.)

The participants were asked a range of questions relating to their attitudes towards the care and well-being of children. For instance, "Do people think Aotearoa New Zealand is getting better or worse at caring for children?" The group that answered 'worse/much worse' had increased from 28% in 2019 to 36% in 2022.

The data for Maori is provided and says, "37% of Māori feel we are getting worse/much worse, compared with 30% in 2019" but no other ethnicity's individual response is available.

There are two sections in the report dedicated respectively to Maori and Pacific responses which both include further analysis regarding gender and age.  There is none provided for Asian or NZ European. In fact, the word 'Asian' appears just twice in the entire report, and both instances are contained in a table detailing ethnicity of the respondents.

In a page of "What was said about the factors which contribute to a lack of thriving by children" there are seven quotes. Five are from Maori females. Only one quote was from a male and he was described as of "other ethnicity".

The methodology used to make comparisons between groups is, "When subgroup differences are mentioned, the results discussed are always in comparison with the overall/total result." That results in Maori being compared to everyone (including themselves!) rather than the more useful, Maori compared to non-Maori.  Further analysis of a more useful nature is not possible because the necessary desegregated data isn't provided.

An argument might be advanced that, as the majority of children who come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki are Maori then most interest should centre on Maori attitudes. But attitudes of those whose children are under-represented should be of equal importance. Comparison of attitudes could shed light on differing outcomes.

The surveyors claim to have engaged "All New Zealanders" but report on only some. The dismissive attitude taken to Asian interests is an affront. But it is typical.

Across the board, the almost exclusive focus of the public service on Maori and Pacific needs is increasingly evident (whether or not it is welcomed by the groups themselves). The diminishing goodwill and gathering resentment of the majority risks loss of participation and co-operation. Bureaucrats and politicians may not want to know what that looks like in practice, but they are going to find out. Disengagement with the forthcoming census might be about to deliver a nasty shock.

If people are to be asked what they think - or how they live - their responses must matter and must count regardless of their skin colour.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Writing off beneficiary debt

There is a call from anti-poverty activists for the government to write off beneficiary debt which has grown to over 2.3 billion dollars.

Acquiescing to this demand would create an ever-growing snowball.

Next for consideration would be student debt; debt to the Ministry of Justice for unpaid fines; debt to IRD for unpaid child support payments; debt to Kaianga Ora for overdue rents and more.

After all, many of the people with forgiven Work and Income debt fall into these other categories also. For the sake of consistency, the write-offs should be all encompassing.

In which case, what about debt to the state-owned Kiwibank? Surely it is within the government's grasp to exercise some clemency there as well.

But it isn't fair for only those with debt to Kiwibank to enjoy this relief.

Parliament has the power to make private companies write off debt via legislation.

Highly profitable banks could be forced to write off mortgage debt; finance companies forced to write off car loan debt.

And if Kaianga Ora is writing off tenant debt shouldn't private landlords be made to do the same?

The list goes on because the rationale for the original demand - that beneficiary debt be written-off - is a constant across all debt.

Debt and its repayment causes hardship; it causes stress sometimes culminating in domestic violence. It can ruin lives, drive people to suicide even.

If the first roll of the snowball is the right and fair thing to do, then so are the subsequent rotations.

While the media is very happy to run with these sorts of demands and soak them in sympathy rather than calm analysis, some of us beg to differ.

Beneficiary debt (other than debt created by state error) has been voluntarily assumed and must be repaid.

Writing off beneficiary debt would simply be another nail in the coffin of personal responsibility and create an extremely dangerous precedent.

Unfortunately, it could just be the life-saving policy the Labour, Maori and Green parties are looking for.