Monday, January 30, 2012

John Key and welfare

Like most Tories, John Key hates welfare and welfare recipients. And if he doesn't then he's certainly not above  exploiting the prejudices of many New Zealanders to make some political hay stigmatising welfare recipients as a drag on the rest of us hardworking citizens.
Key, along with his Minster of Social Development, faux Westie Paula Bennett, spent the last term of the National government describing beneficiaries as 'breeding for a business', with benefit receipt being 'a way of life'. For these bludgers the message was simple: 'the dream is over'. Subsequent legislation required sole parents to work at least 15 hours per week when their youngest child turns 6; that Sickness beneficiaries to work 15 hours per week; and people accessing hardship assistance more than twice per year to show proof of taking reasonable steps to improve income, reduce costs, or improve financial management. In practice this means beneficiaries now have to show they have sought budgeting assistance, a stipulation that has put enormous strain on budgeting services who have not had any compensatory increase in funding. During the 2011 election, National also promised to get tough on 16 and 17 year olds in receipt of the Independent Youth Benefit.
In the meantime, National has also promised to implement the recommendations of its ACT-led Welfare Working Group, a group that viewed beneficiaries as shiftless slackers who abuse their kids, take drugs, spend all their money on alcohol and cigarettes and are almost entirely to blame for the government's difficult fiscal position . (A rejoinder to much of this crap has been published by Child Poverty Action Group.)
But it seems there are two faces to National's attitude to welfare.

(Source: wiki commons)

Consider the following news item from Radio NZ:
The Prime Minister John Key says one of the issues he'll raise with the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today and tomorrow is the provision of welfare support to New Zealanders living in Australia. Mr Key's in Melbourne for a meeting with Ms Gillard and a joint cabint meeting tomorrow. He says a change in policy being considered by Australia could result in 100,000 New Zealanders being made permanent residents of that country. Mr Key says that would mean they then become eligible for welfare support. The problem for many New Zealanders living in Australia became clear when those affected by the Queensland floods were initially ineligible for government support. Mr Key says the Australian government will have to consider the cost of the change before making a decision.
In other words, New Zealand sole parents need to be incentivised into work through punitive sanctions, while New Zealanders in Australia need to be eligible for 'government support'. Not just welfare, note, but 'support'.
We think this is a cunning ploy to help the Key government achieve its target of equalising the incomes of Australians and New Zealanders. If welfare is hard to get in New Zealand but is easier to get in Australia then the thing to do would be to encourage our  beneficiaries and homeless to move to Australia, thus bringing New Zealand's average income up, and dragging Australia's down. It's a bit like Victorian England: we don't want to look after our own poor, so we'll try to ship them to Australia.
Given that the Gillard government is on the same austerity schtick as the rest of the developed world (including New Zealand), good luck with that, Mr Key. And in case you're wondering, you're a hypocrite. 

PS Cartoon on the outcome of the joint cabinet meeting. Thanks, Scoop.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Spider learns to swim

New best friends Bella, Harley and Bailey (all labradors) show Spider how to swim, and why playing with a stick is such fun.

From left: Bella, Harley and Spider

Bella and Harley show what real water dogs look like

Spider tries to keep up


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why we love the internet I

Because eventually everything gets leaked and is open to public scrutiny. It provides the transparency governments claim they want as long as it doesn't apply to them.
What do we learn? Old New Zealanders die and ACT are "a strange bunch".

Post script: Some public-spirited person has put a transcript of the tape on their blog. Biggest surprise: that John Banks apparently thinks him and equally unlikeable specimans Steve Whittington and Don Nicholson along with former leader Catherine Isaac could restructure and rebuild ACT. Go for it, guys.

Things called tape measures

They look like this:

Or this:

 KiwiRail's well-paid planners should learn to use them. Here's the problem:
In early 2011 the New Zealand Herald reported that KiwiRail had given in to the disgust of the Glen Eden community and decided to remove the 'eyesore' rail footbridge ramps it had installed and move them someplace the residents were, uh, less assertive. Somewhere like, say, Otahuhu. The rationale was that the Otahuhu train station is in an industrial area and the fact that the footbridge was REALLY BIG AND REALLY UGLY would largely go unnoticed. Which as a statement in its own right is largely true. The station is bounded by a container park on one side and some large warehouses on the other. But this is where the tape measure would have come in handy.
Otahuhu train station is reasonably well used in the rush hour and until recently had a series of shelters which, in a public-transport-minimalist sort of way, provided passengers with some shelter. The station is exposed and cold, and it has clearly been many years since anyone deemed the good citizens of Otahuhu deserved anything other than a holding pen. But as noted the pedestrian footbridge cast off by Glen Eden has Verrrrrrrrry Loooooooong ramps. So long that in the process of installing them, KiwiRail has had to take down most of the shelters and this central commuter point is now left with this:

Yes, that's right. One shelter for northbound commuters, and one for southbound commuters. The rest of what was once a decent, long platform has been swallowed by KiwiRail's monstrosity. Did no one think to take some measurements first? Or did they think that even though this is a communter facility, that the needs of commuters don't matter? As an aside, note that they didn't even replace the rubbish bins they removed.
Big fail, KiwiRail. Your footbridge fits in with the landscape, what a shame it doesn't fit in with the needs of the people whose interests you're supposed to have at heart.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On ideology

We think this is important because New Zealand political language is so imbued with Neoliberal claptrap that has been absorbed and internalised even by many commentators on the Left, that we think it's time to start deconstruct some of it.
The most elementary definition of ideology is probably the well-known phrase from Marx's Capital: ˜Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es" (they do not know it, but they are doing it). The very concept of ideology implies a kind of basic, constitutive naivety: the misrecognition of its own presuppositions, of its own effective conditions, a distance, a divergence between so-called social reality and our distorted representation, our false consciousness of it. That is why such a "naive consciousness" can be submitted to a critical-ideological procedure. The aim of this procedure is to lead the naive ideological consciousness to a point at which it can recognize its own effective conditions, the social reality that it is distorting, and through this very act dissolve itself. In the more sophisticated versions of the critics of ideology that developed by the Frankfurt School, for example it is not just a question of seeing things (that is, social reality) as they ˜really are", of throwing away tile distorting spectacles of ideology; the main point is to see how the reality itself cannot reproduce itself without this so-called ideological mystification. The mask is not simply hiding the real state of things; the ideological distortion is written into its very essence.
From Slovoj Zizek, The sublime object of ideology (1989, Verso Books) 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

In the 'hood

Walking around the neighbourhood provides the opportunity to meet and greet the local kids and other dogs and their people, and generally be nosy. More discussion on the philosophy of walking and cycling around the 'hood to come but in the meantime here's what was going on yesterday.

School holiday fishing down the estuary. Evidence that young people aren't really that much different from their parents and grandparents. 
Spider tried to steal their bait (bad dog!).

Tongans in formal dress for Grandad's funeral. The photo's crappy but trust us, these gents looked fab.

Sunset over the brewery.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dannemora - why live there at all?

A recent opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald by one Damien Grant (I have no idea who Damien Grant is and am too lazy too google him, but he seems to be one of those opinionators the Herald keeps on because you can't have too many right-wing commentators) takes up a familiar theme of the propertied classes and argues that the Auckland Council's plan for high-density developments in Auckland will Be A Bad Thing for Auckland and Aucklanders. Evidence for this is taken from the Productivity Commission's draft report on housing affordability.
For Grant, the Productivity Commission, and those with a vested interest in development, high-density brownfield housing develpment is anathema because there's a whole lot more money to be made in greenfields development, ie suburban sprawl. The preferred narrative seems to be that if the Council opens up lots of land for development outside the existing metropolitan urban limit then house prices will fall. Bollocks. As the Salvation Army points out, to date the developments that have been outside the existing MUL all feature expensive McMansions. When the former Waitemata City Council tried to include affordable housing in its Hobsonville development, the government stepped in and promised no such thing would happen. But what caught our eye was this:

The Strand in Parnell [has] soulless uniform constructions of slums-in-waiting...Most people do not want to live in high-density housing. The first thing migrants from nations like Taiwan do is rush to Dannemora and buy the largest block of land and build the most ostentatious house their capital will allow...The desire to live in a house with a garden and room to bury the kids' pet goldfish is universal. 
 In other words, the preferences of a particular group of immigrants is put forward as reflecting a universal human desire. Note this is not actually an argument about the possible quality or otherwise of high-density housing, it just pretends to be. However, given the remark about the soulless Strand, we assumed that this must mean that, by way of contrast, Dannemora's got soul, which presumably is one reason Taiwanese migrants want to live there. So we packed up Spider's water and bikkies, and went and had a look.

Dannemora is a Mcmansion development of the type that sprang up around the developed world in the 1990s-2000s (Transport blog has some maps and comments about Dannemora and its style of development here). It is on what used to be dairy farms on the fringe of Manukau City (a fact that that on its own suggests that developing sheep farms will not result in affordable housing for the great unwashed). In keeping with Auckland's abysmal urban planning, it is totally car-centred, there's almost no public transport, it's difficult to walk around and almost lethal to cycle around. This might explain why (see if you can guess how many lanes this suburban road has):

But mostly we were looking for soul. There had to be some, right? 
Er, no.

This doesn't look like somewhere Richard Florida would approve of. It looks like somewhere you go to be fearful before you die (and given the support for hardline law and order policies in this neck of the woods, this is exactly what happens).
Humans have lived in high-density housing for decades, sometimes even with goldfish. Just because council planners have allowed crappy developments in the past, there's no reason they can't grow some cojones and demand better quality developments that cater for real people in the future. The question is whether the free-marketeers will let them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Our friend Winkle

He's black, shiny, beautiful and utterly mad. Here he is showing off up a power pole.

Children against poverty and the wheel of karma

In 2007 John Key shamelessly used 12 year old Aroha Nathan of Mt Roskill's McGehan Close as a political prop to highlight Labour's apparent policy neglect of a group he defined as the underclass (a group always defined from outside and above). Mr Key promised to restore the rungs that had been kicked out from the ladder of opportunity he himself had been able to enjoy, and talked about bringing opportunity and hope to "struggling families and communities in New Zealand".
Fast forward to 2011 and just prior to the election Mr Key is forced to admit that the “growing underclass” he promised to tackle in 2008 has probably grown further – rather than decreased – during his first term in government… He said he had visited a number of budgeting services and food banks “and I think it’s fair to say they’ve seen an increase in people accessing their services. So that situation is there.”
During the 2011 election, child poverty and income inequality became background election issues, issues the government desperately tried to ignore. They were largely successful in this with the help of the mainstream news outlets until Bryan Bruce's documentary on child poverty screened on TV3 the week before the election. Like a festering wound suddenly exposed for all to see, child poverty was out in public sight.
Now, a contemporary of Aroha Nathan's has decided she's not gonna take it any more, and has challenged the government head on about child poverty. Jazmine Heka has set up a Facebook page and started a petition calling for calling for free healthcare for all children whenever they need it, free healthy school lunches for all children and a warrant of fitness for all rental houses (be on the right side of history - download the petition here).
It's one thing to use the young for your own ends, but quite another for them to take matters into their own hands. National deserve this. What goes around comes around.
Kia kaha, Jazmine.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Looking for the brown underclass

Every Child Counts has released a report, He Ara Hou, which looks at the health, education and other disparities between Maori and Pasifika children. The numbers are shocking, and there is no doubt New Zealand needs to take a long hard look at how it supports Maori and Pasifika children as compared to, say, middle-class baby boomers receiving significant tax breaks on investment housing.
While we think it is good that ECC has published the report, which largely fingers poverty as the key issue for the less than acceptable outcomes for so many Maori and Pasifika children, we were somewhat startled by the claim that "New Zealand is developing a brown social underclass". More - much more - on this to follow, but our curiosity having been tweaked, we went to one of our favourite haunts, downtown Otahuhu, in search of the brown underclass. What might be the distinguishing features of such a group? How might they reveal themselves to the world?
We chose Otahuhu for two reasons. The first is that Otahuhu is Very Excited about the Rugby World Cup. So there's lots of people on the street entertaining, and being entertained. The other is that Otahuhu is a decile one neighbourhood. At the last census only about 30% of the population was European, the average income was well below the national median, only about 30% of households had internet access, and there are high rates of benefit receipt. A perfect place to look for the brown underclass. So what did we find?
The main street of Otahuhu, jammed with cars festooned with the flags of various rugby-playing nations, but mostly Tonga. Try to imagine all of these cars honking at each other to get an idea of the noise.


Here's a purposeful young man carrying a large Samoan flag.


"Brown" can be difficult. It can range from tangata whenua with olive skin with green eyes to the very dark skins of North African immigrants. Some of that variation can be seen in this small group of young people enjoying the entertainment.

And here's the entertainment. Photo taken from behind to protect the identity of these shy young women. Were any of these people part of or representative of the brown underclass? We have no idea. The only obvious marker was the hoodie, and these are ubiquitous. Even white people wear them. Our mission was a failure.