Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ennobling work like, you know, cleaning

As part of its drive to hammer beneficiaries to finance its inappropriate tax cuts for the wealthy and finance company bailouts, the government intends to move 46,000 people off benefits over the next few years (they're a bit vague about the time frame), and expects 7,000-11,000 others to work part time. In response to Opposition party scepticism about where, exactly, the jobs would come from, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett had this to say:
Ms Bennett says people should be willing to do jobs like cleaning or working in a fast food restaurant, describing those jobs as noble. Any job is a good job, and people doing cleaning or fast-food service can get experience that allows them to move on to other jobs.
Cleaning, to paraphrase Jebediah Springfield, embiggens the smallest...beneficiary. This patronising tripe is waiting for someone to take it down, and lo and behold a cleaner, no less, has. From Scoop, a Poem for Paula.

So, now we're noble eh
Are you quite sure we're that way, with our mop and plastic tray?
What is this "noble" really,
what does Oxford have to say?

"Belonging to nobility, of lofty character or ideals"
well, that's a must for heating hasty fatty meals

"Noble, illustrious by title, birth or rank"
undaunted if the men's urinal stank

"morally elevated, stately, magnificent, splendid
and maintaining such a state until our graveyard shift has ended

"imposing , impressive in appearance -eg; a noble horse, cellar
"Ah, he must be a cleaner, that imposing feller!"

"not tarnishing in air or water, not easily attacked by acid"
putting up with shit all day, while seeming placid

"gaseous element of a group that almost never combines with other elements"
No, that's not our description.
But it could be Paula Bennet's.

by Don Franks ( cleaner)

Monday, February 27, 2012

World Spay Day

Tuesday the 28th of February is World Spay Day. Geno has some thoughts about this:
- Please support World Spay Day. It will mean old, dignified dogs like me won't have to put up with young stray turds like Spider, who appears to have no manners. So help me and the other old dogs. Please.

I'd just like to add that anything that reduces the canine (and feline) misery in places like South Auckland can only be a good thing. So if you can, please send a donation to the SPCA and ask them to tag it for spays. A spay costs about $30. Every year hundreds of unwanted dogs and cats are put down. It's totally unnecessary and reflects badly on our values.

"You can judge the morality of a nation by the way the society treats its animals." (Mahatma Ghandi).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

At the waterfront picket

In solidarity with the port workers who are presently striking as part of a rearguard action to protect their employment conditions, Spider and i went to the picket at Teal Park this afternoon. One of the things we learned is that Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson was once the managing director of Maersk New Zealand (I know, I'm the last one in the world to realise but I never read CEO biographies). Maesrk has been implicated in a great deal of the angst suffered by New Zealand's ports over the last few years, and in 2007 it was reported that Maersk was eying up buying a stake in New Zealand container terminals. About that time the global financial crisis reared its ugly head and shipping companies around the world went into survival mode just to get over the slump in international shipping trade. We'll do a bit more looking at this and get back to you, because it seems likely that whatever is going on at the Ports of Auckland, it's not just about lowering labour costs.
In the meantime, here's Spider the protest dog.
Spider being staunch with Green Party star Denise Roche

And Labourites  Darien Fenton, Jacinda Ardern and Carol Beaumont. Nice to see Labour taking a stand on this.

Of course it's not all about rubbing shoulders with stars. The strike is about these guys and their families' right to a living wage.

 It's not just blokes. Here's the sisters doing it for themselves. And if you want to support the port workers there is an official website showing how you can help here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Playing for food in downtown Auckland

This clarinet-playing horse ("I don't have a name") reckons that when he wears his mask people give him money.
"Even the kids. I hear them laughing at me then they give me some money."
Looking at the number of homeless or simply impoverished panhandlers lining Queen Street, anything that provides a competitive advantage is probably a good thing.
"Do you mind if I take a photo?"
"No, people take lots of photos."
Thanks, Mr Horse With No Name.

Enough for lunch?

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Business Roundtable: Evidence of reverse evolution?

Some scientists think that humans are evolving to be less violent and more cooperative. And there seems little doubt if humans hadn't evolved to communicate and cooperate we'd still be inhabiting caves living short, nasty and brutish lives. Spider and I generally applaud this trend for the simple reason we think violence - physical and economic - creates more problems than it solves (well, mostly).
But we also wonder if there is a peculiar genetic strain that is making some small minority of people less cooperative and more selfish. Unlike the Y-chromosome, this reverse evolution gene can appear in both men and women. After having a quick look at the latest smug, evidence-free rant from the Business Roundtable (find it yourself, but have a barf bag at the ready) we realised one would be most likely to find these people signing up to organisations such as the Business Roundtable or lurking around the fringes of the right-wing blogosphere, for example.
The long-term prognosis is not good:

Thursday, February 23, 2012


This gorgeous girl is Spidey. Spidey lives behind the latch of one of our kitchen windows. The window never gets opened (it doesn't close properly and we're useless schmucks so can't fix it), so Spidey has built a large and complex web on one side of the window. In spring she had squillions of babies, some of whom fell victim to Mr Vacuum Cleaner, and others to Mr Kitchen Sponge. However, three or four of the offspring now occupy other parts of the window. They are all building their own nests except the one who  lives behind the bag of salt that sits on the window sill.
It's all making the kitchen look rather feral but it does appear to be keeping the flies down. In the meantime, I'm wondering just how big Spidey can get. 
Here she is in all her glory, sneaking out at night to do whatever it is spiders do.


Inequality might suck, but waddaya gonna do?

The following was sent by a sharp-eyed colleague and someone who still reads the Listener (thanks, Julie): 
Those at the top have pulled further ahead in the past two decades, so what’s the Government’s plan for tackling poverty and inequality? Unusually, Finance Minister Bill English isn’t sure what he thinks. The Listener has asked if New Zealand is too unequal.
  •  “You don’t get that choice, actually. You don’t get the choice of saying I’d like less inequality. You don’t have the levers.” 
Surely he must have an opinion whether, in an ideal world, this society is too unequal:
  • “I don’t know the answer to that. There is inequality. Part of that is what you get in a society where there’s equal opportunity. You get different results.”
What National won’t be doing, says English, is putting any more money into lifting the incomes of entire groups, as Labour did with Working for Families. And he certainly doesn’t think restoring some strength to trade unions is a way to improve the wages of those at the bottom. ”We don’t agree generally with the theories that you can construct equality."
So: it might be crap to be poor in New Zealand, but meh, waddaya gonna do? Because poverty and inequality just like, ya know, happen, there's nothing we can do because income distribution is an immutable law of nature.
This "what can ya do?" is mirrored in the government's recent Green Paper on Vulnerable Children, in which we read: “Many things impact on what happens to children that are beyond the reach of Government – in terms of what happens in the economy and job market…”
Putting to one side the clunky grammar, this is an extraordinary statement. Memo to Bill and Paula: if you can't do anything when you're in government, what the fuck are you there for? Fuck right off out of town and hand the reins over to someone with an interest in improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders, a project that would necessarily include reducing the inequalities and poverty that are so damaging, especially for children and young people. Claims that "we don't have the levers", or that the economy "is beyond the reach of the government" are total tripe, and as a former Treasury official, Bill, you know that. If New Zealand's economic policies can increase income inequality at a faster rate than any other country in the OECD (see graph. Data from OECD), then there are policies that can reverse that inequality should you choose to do so. In the meantime stop being a fucking parasite on the taxpayer and go back to Dipton.

On retro-sexist advertising and idiotic commentary

"Thus, the male myth-masters fashion prominent and eminently forgettable images of women - images intended to mold women for male purposes." (Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology)

Those of us a bit longer in the tooth can recall when advertisements for stuff almost always featured attractive young women draped over/pouting at/making sexually explicit gestures at the item in question. It was brain-dead advertising: advertisers didn't need to say anything clever, and there was no need to bore a fickle public with details of why they should buy one product in preference to another. It was advertising that was explicit in its message that women had no purpose in the world other than to drape themselves over the possessions of men (women were never the targets of such advertising). They were ads like this unsubtle garbage (circa 1969):
 Underneath this was the message that women had no intelligence, no aspirations, and no autonomous will. And at a deeper level, this objectification of women and their offspring provided the unspoken justification for domestic violence that went on unhindered in New Zealand for many years because men were deemed to have some claim of right over a woman's body, and the bodies of her children.
Nasty feminists worked hard to stamp out this sexist advertising, and to bring to public attention the horror of male-on-female spousal abuse, and over time the ads disappeared (driven also in part because advertisers realised women had their own money and were therefore consumers), women moved into the professions in larger numbers, and hitting your spouse and sexually abusing children was no longer OK. So far so good.
But just as radical women were taking off their knuckle dusters, retro-sexist advertising was making a comeback, particularly in alcohol and energy drink advertising. In these ads, advertisers have reprised 1970s Woman - passive, brainless, there only for male gratification. The ads are entirely male-centred: again, women are not viewed as consumers except in the case of some more sophisticated liquor ads (because real men don't drink Baileys).
Finally, in response an Auckland women's group has called on Tui (and no, we're not going to show a pic of their vile advert) to drop its television advert which, as the press release notes, "feature women in skimpy clothes and sexualised poses, who are relentlessly depicted as more stupid than the dorky group of men who try to infiltrate the brewery".
Now this has got some of New Zealand's brighter minds quite exercised, apparently. I say brighter because the topic made it onto Radio New Zealand's The Panel, thus:
  • Jim Mora: DB Breweries has refused to drop this Tui beer television ad, despite pressure from a feminist group, Auckland Feminist Action, saying its planning to launch a campaign - tonight, I think - to get the ad taken off air. You know the ad...(blah blah)...Whaddaya think about it?
  • Gary Moore: I think it's terrific but I feel slightly resentful because when I first started in an accountants office we were the accountants for DB Tui Mangatinoka, and if I'd known those women were in that factory I would have spent much more time trying to get a job...
  • JM: They are not in the factory, you know that.
  • GM: I can't believe...you mean advertising isn't true?
  • LInda Clark: I just so wish you were running for office and had said that. I just so wish you were. The female vote would have just fallen through the roof. That ad is appalling, I hate their ads, I'm so not their target market, but the ad that makes me more mad than this one is their previous one with the girl and the girl - even I'm saying it - the women, fully grown women, probably with a university education, who's got the orange bikini on and goes down the chute. I loathe that ad, I loathe it with every fibre in my body, and I can't believe that it's 2012 and it's funny to depict women in such a way. But I'm 125.
  • GM: Can I tell my 125 year old colleague that if this group really wants to actually make a difference, they should be starting to look at the small, the few small number of women holding high office in this country. They should start looking at the small number of women on boards, they...
  • JM: Well maybe, I suppose a contrary argument would be that there might be more women holding high office in the country of they weren't just being portrayed as dull machines or sex starved, Gary, that's the riposte. 
  • GM: Oh, I just think if you don't like it don't laugh, you know i just think that the most important thing is to actually...
  • LC: I'm so not laughing. 
  • JM: I can tell you're not laughing...
  • LC: I'm so not laughing.
  • GM: Listen. Can I tell you that there's a Bexley resident, Lianne Dalziel, sitting outside the tent waiting for me and I'm going to be beaten up for my...
  • LC: I hope so. Sh'es known for her right hook, or is it her left hook, I can never remember. You'll be mincemeat and rightfully so. It is the most appalling sexist, it is just shocking, just a retrograde step. But it's all over telly, it's not the only ad that depicts women as stupid and mega-breasted. That is the depiction of femalehood these days. 
  • JM: I can't believe Gary Moore that you've brought this calamity on yourself...(blah blah)...
  • GM: Well humour has its role and different people see different things.
  • LC: Yeah, denigrating women's hilarious, Gary.  
  • JM: Well at least we ended humourously on a day when we could have used some humour.
Just as well Gary Moore isn't running for office. On listening to the full audio, it was great to hear the women's corner vigorously defended by Linda Clark. But rather than just roll over and sigh that "that is the depiction of femalehood", we suggest Linda and anyone else who prefers not to get dragged back to the dark ages supports the campaign. Yes, Tui are not the only culprits, but they are the most shameless, and forcing them to withdraw the ad would put other would-be lazy advertisers on notice.                       

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Street art in the 'hood

Cycling and walking around the neighbourhood means you get to see stuff that you might not otherwise notice as you text and drive. That includes examples of funky street art. These photos were taken on Portage Road in Otahuhu. They're just chunks of firewood someone has painted and put on the curb to liven up what is a none too posh neighbourhood. Originally they were painted rocks but the council decreed rocks to be unsuitable hence to oddly shaped blocks of wood.
Here's a rhino  

And a much scarier-looking cousin


 And an alligator

Here's the artist, Donald, and his dog. Bravo!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


No, not the ones Family First gets its knickers in a knot about, but people who do real stuff on a professional basis. We visited one such person a while ago and got to discussing plaits for pendants. Like most amateurs I've always used a 3-strand plait. The Professional suggested a 4-strand plait and was equipped with little bobbin things to feed the thread, a weight for the plait and a paddle with a hole in it to feed everything through. Thanks to the marvel that is the internet we quickly found instructions for a 4-strand plait and gave it a go. We used some polyester Goliath thread that's been here forever and some beads from the collection.

OK, the ends don't bear too close an inspection but it's OK for a first attempt from skinny thread using paper clips weighed down with a dictionary. That's the other thing about pros: they have that specialist equipment for a reason.

What can the junk food industry tell us about the economy that Bill English won't?

Four years after the global economy hit the skids, New Zealand's economy continues to limp along losing jobs, being hammered by high exchange rates and falling demand in many of its key export markets. Yet according to our Minister of Finance (and the Prime Minister and his Minister for Social Development for that matter), there's nothing wrong, and if there is it's certainly nothing a bit of austerity won't fix. Bill does tend to flip flop according to his audience and which way the wind is blowing: the economy is doing well sometimes, but terrible budget constraints are forcing the government to flog off publicly-owned assets other times. But generally - aided and abetted by bank economists who have managed to call it wrong since the start of the GFC - the government is presenting a largely unquestioning public with a cheery picture (all quotes from official government propaganda machine):
  • the economy posted solid economic growth in the September quarter
  • we're building a more competitive economy based on exports and new jobs
  • we are in a good position compared to many other nations
  • the fall in unemployment to 6.3% is evidence the economy is heading in the right direction. 
With foodbanks and budgeting agencies continuing to report record demand for their services, it is reasonable to ask who, exactly, is heading in the right direction?
The evidence from the real world suggests it's not low-income people. $2 shops are predicated on the idea that even very poor people will have a few coins kicking around in their pockets, and if they want to treat themselves or the kids then the $2 shop can provide them with a cheap novelty or personal item. Major junk food outlets are also very sensitive to the health of their customers' wallets, and places like McDonalds and Wendys have been offering cheaper crud for some time. But what caught our eye was a Burger King ad which suggests that the major junk food chains have noticed that their actual customers (not the white middle class ones which feature in their ads) have even less money clanking around in their pockets than they did a couple of years ago. The BK ad is for some rubbish called Shots, and you can get two for a mere $2.90. $5 is now out of reach, but like the $2 shops, BK figure hungry people at least have a couple of coins in their pockets. This photo was taken at a bus stop, because you'd flog your cheapest deal to public transport losers.

Then we noticed this from McDonalds. Again, this suggests that whatever the Great Propaganda Machine is telling us about creating jobs, the reality for many people is that a $2 hamburger from McDonalds is about their financial limit. 

And it seems the junk food industry is not the only one that recognises the financial constraints many of its customers are facing. Here's something called a Big liq (I think that's what the label reads) purchased from one of our many local liquor outlets. It's photographed next to a cotton reel to get a sizing, it's 20% alcohol by volume, and you can purchase this nasty for a mere $2. Don't keep this stuff in the cellar to auction at Christies in 100 years time - it has a 'best by' date.

The first decade of the century was characterised by a two-speed economy as those who could take advantage of the global flow of cheap credit did so, and those that couldn't slipped further behind. The Great Grinding recession has heightened that divide, and forced more people onto benefits and into precarious employment (yep, I read the Household Labour Force Survey). In complete denial of the reality for thousands of New Zealanders, the government has embarked on another round of cuts to social services and seems intent on creating an economy for the benefit of the predatory 1%. Still, it's nice to see someone thinks they can still make a buck. Or two.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dickosaurus or other people's gardens

Most of us plod around our gardens doing the best we can with our limited imaginations and overstrength weedkiller. So it's always a pleasant surprise to go somewhere people are not struggling with both of those things. Behold Dickosaurus! (Go on, look closely). Carved from a single oak branch, with bright green glass eyes, a snappy tail and a fertility seat barely big enough for two.

Rather more upstanding in several respects is this wonderful cast iron and glass sculpture tucked away among the tree ferns. And of course there's lots of other arty little knick-knacks around the place. Bravo to all you imaginative gardeners out there. Us plodders salute you!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Taking back the public interest

This was drafted last year before the doo-doo hit the fan at our place and everything came to a grinding halt. Last week Treasury has released its Briefing to the Minister exhorting the government to implement more of the same intellectually sterile policies that have failed ordinary New Zealanders for about the last 30 years, so Spider and I thought it was time to dust this off. We'll make a couple of brief comments on the Treasury Briefing sometime in the next few days.


A 2010 paper by Richard Walker (Richard Walker, 2010, The Golden State Adrift, New Left Review, 66 November-December 2010) considered California as the state that led the way for neoliberal economic restructuring, the subsequent running down of its social and physical infrastructure, and its most recent phase as the epicentre of the real estate meltdown and Great Recession in the US.
Although California differs from New Zealand in a number of key respects, the picture Walker paints shows broad parallels between California and New Zealand's experience under neoliberal economic governance. We also see commonalities between New Zealand under a business-friendly National government and California's in/ability to both pull itself out of the economic mire and revitalise its democracy.
For the sake of brevity, this essay will focus on two aspects of these parallels: the shift in the economic base to a service economy; and New Zealand's changing demographics and the challenge it presents for politics as usual.

Out with the old

Walker describes California as the “bridgehead" for neoliberalism, and indeed California provided an early glimpse of the damage neoliberalism was to do to living standards and economic security across the OECD: fewer public services, stagnant real incomes for low- and middle-income earners, the rolling back of social security, and increased income inequality.
If California was the bridgehead for neoliberalism, New Zealand was the country most enthusiastic about using its citizens as cannon fodder in a globalised class war that has eroded their ability to earn a decent living and be better off than their parents. The economic restructuring that seriously got under way in 1984 under the 4th Labour government gave New Zealand the dubious honour of the fastest rising income inequality in the developed world.
This was - and remains - the one economic indicator in which New Zealand is the OECD's star performer.
Since 1984 the New Zealand economy, along with most other OECD countries, has been restructured to free the flow of capital, particularly financial capital. A key outcome of this has been that manufacturing has moved offshore to cheaper labour markets. In response the government has tried to compete with low-wage countries by removing labour market protections to force the workforce to be more ‘flexible’, and backing this up with cuts to the social safety net – the so-called ‘race to the bottom’. This has meant static real wages for most middle- and low-income workers, and a slump in the incomes of those receiving social security. While real wages rose in the 2000s it is now clear that this was achieved almost solely on easy credit. In the protracted ‘correction’ that has followed, the ‘austerity' mantra has been used to launch a further assault on employment conditions and the social safety net supposed to protect people from adversity.

The death of manufacturing and the rise of the casualised workforce

A key part of New Zealand's macroeconomic restructuring was the lowering of trade barriers, including the abolition of most tariffs and the scrapping of the import licencing system that had been in place since the late 1930s. This was supposed to make local manufacturers more ‘efficient'.  ‘Sunset industries' that could not compete with the flood of cheap imports would die, while the newly flexible labour force would find jobs in the more efficient and competitive economy. The removal of tariffs and import restrictions decimated the manufacturing sector. To help fill the gap left in household incomes more women moved into the workforce (a trend already under way and not exclusively due to falling household incomes), with the labour force participation rates for married/living as married women rising from 56% in 1987 to 68% now.
This economic shift represents a profound change in New Zealanders’ employment pattern and the nature of that employment.  This has attracted little attention yet has an impact on people's ability to obtain and keep secure, decently paid employment in the 21st century. Since 1989 the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) accounted for by manufacturing has fallen from 16% to 10%. In the same period the share of GDP accounted for by the service sector has risen from 21% to 29%. All other sectors have remained relatively constant, with the exception of services. As full-time jobs have been lost in manufacturing, they have been replaced by service sector jobs. In fact this masks a deeper change. Service sector jobs are more likely to be part-time, and because service sector jobs pay less, the service sector is now employing a greater proportion of the workforce than indicated by its increased share of national output. Women make up the majority of part-time workers, a fact that has long-term economic implications for them in the event that saving for retirement becomes compulsory.
This can be seen by considering the number and type of jobs in the economy. In 1989 one in four full-time jobs was in manufacturing. In 2011 that figure had fallen to less than one in six. Over the same period, the proportion of full time jobs in the economy as a whole had fallen from 78% to 70%. In other words full time jobs in manufacturing are being replaced by part-time work in, predominantly, education, training and healthcare. As for primary industries (farming, mining fishing, forestry), their share of employment has been static throughout the period. With so few services based in rural areas, it is no wonder that much of the younger working aged population in rural areas has left to live elsewhere.
It is perhaps timely to reflect what these changes might mean as the government embarks on yet another economic restructuring in favour of financial capital, including changes to reduce worker protections and probable cuts to welfare. The 2011 budget forecast the creation of 170,000 jobs between 2011-2015. Yet there have been only two four-year periods since 1989 (as far back as the records go) where 170,000 jobs or more have been created in the economy, and that is the four years to March 1997 and March 1998. This was a period when the economy was coming off the very low base of the 1991-92 recession, and growth was driven largely by Auckland's apartment boom and the spending of new immigrants. Moreover, there is an important caveat to this apparently rosy picture, and that is that in both of those periods only 55% of the jobs created were full-time. More sobering is that in the four-year period ending March 2011 the economy created a slim 4,500 jobs, of which only 12% were full time. So the forecast of 170,000 new jobs over the next four years, with its implied promise that they will be full-time jobs that will soak up the majority of the unemployed is optimistic, and arguably mischievous. Add to this the fact that the government is gearing up for welfare reforms that will undoubtedly cut payments and eligibility (as signalled by Treasury's 2012 Briefing to the Incoming Ministers), and New Zealand's slow rate of full-time job creation starts to look like a social catastrophe in the making.

Uneven impact of the casualised labour market

A similar story pertains across the OECD, although New Zealand with its more masculine version of neo-liberalism stands out as a weak economic performer. One factor New Zealand has in common with other countries is that the outcome of labour market casualisation and cutbacks to social assistance have led to a widening income gap and increased poverty. This increased poverty has not, however, been evenly distributed across the population, with Maori and Pasifika, and young people having higher than average rates of unemployment; poverty disproportionately falls on sole parent, Maori and Pasifika families with children; and the casualised, part-time, low-paid workforce is predominantly brown/female/older. New Zealand's population growth rates are above the OECD average, but the greatest proportion of that growth is within low-income Maori and Pasifika families, to the extent that by 2026 Statistics New Zealand mid-range population projections predict that 37% of the population will be of Maori, Asian or Pasifika descent. And this population will be much younger than the greying baby boomers they will be supporting. By 2031 one in five New Zealanders will be aged 65 or over, and this young, brown population will be crucial in providing the economic base on which they will depend.

Towards the toll-booth economy

And it is here that we see the potential for a great unraveling. New Zealand's economic policies of the last 30 years have mostly benefited its white, property-owning, ageing population – arguably a proxy for the financial capital that now dominates economic policymaking. New Zealand has no death duty, no taxes on property, and social services for the young have been cut back, to be replaced by what economist Michael Hudson describes as a toll-booth economy which disadvantages those on low incomes. Recent changes include eliminating duty on gifts to tax-avoiding trusts, and a flattening of the tax structure, further disadvantaging low-income earners. These policies have been designed by, and benefit, the predominantly white gerontocracy that dominates New Zealand politics. There is nothing that suggests policymakers recognise that the future workforce is the group that has been most disadvantaged by changes in the employment market and inadequate social support. Focused as they have been on relieving the burden of those at the top of the income scale, our democratic institutions have not only failed to account for New Zealand’s changing demography, but its radically changed sociospatial and cultural landscape as well. It cannot be in the public interest to ignore these shifts for the benefit of a handful of the well-heeled. And it reflects poorly on our democracy when the wellbeing of citizens is put to one side in favour of an economic system designed to benefit the few. Yet this is exactly what is happening.
The deep structural shift that has taken place in New Zealand has been accompanied by a seeming unspoken consensus among the political elite and its mostly compliant media that considerations of the wider public interest are off the agenda for discussion. But the continued reconfiguration of the state as an agent of business rather than a representative of the people means that the public interest must be put back on the table. The twin assaults on labour and those dependent on social assistance affects almost all of us – our families, our neighbours and friends – individually and collectively. Resisting the narrow interests that shut so many people out of politics will require efforts across sectors - unions, beneficiaries, churches and organisations with an interest in improving the lot of the insecure majority. The public interest is theirs to take back.

All data from Statistics New Zealand Infoshare.

Sorry, Telecom, the dog ate my phone bill

Bad Dog!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Auckland Council Review of Policy and Bylaw on dogs

Here's a short, not terribly detailed submission guide for doggie owners. 
The Review is complex, and the support documents are detailed and difficult to read. Before you get grumpy, remember some poor boffin at the Council has had to pull together bylaws from 7 different local councils plus legislation, no easy task. Summaries on the website are easier to read but lack detail; the full 2.2MB Statement of Proposal (SOP) is a bit of a curly one.
The suggestions here are mine: you can ignore them or disagree as you wish, but please do make a submission even if it's just short. Submissions can be made online here
My suggestions below are in the same order as the official submission form to make them easier to follow.

Access rules
Playgrounds. At present dogs are prohibited from playgrounds so this remains the same. While 'in the vicinity' is vague, it allows for some discretion depending on circumstances. While it doesn't really make sense to prohibit dogs from playgrounds when they are not in use we'll let this slide if it makes the region's parents happy.
Council sports surfaces. This is more difficult.  The recommended option calls for a prohibition of dogs from sports surfaces at all times, and for dogs to be on a leash in the vicinity of a sports surface when the surface is in use. The problem with this is that for many dog owners their main, or in some cases sole, dog exercise venue is the local sportsfield. This is particularly the case in those parts of the region that have few off-leash areas. An all-times prohibition is not only inequitable, but would be very difficult to enforce. While the concern about dog faeces and the Council's concerns about health risks is accepted, it would seem dog owners are receiving a double whammy, with the requirement to pick up faeces and carry a bag for that purpose at all times, with no corresponding concession that dogs be allowed to use sportsfields.  Also, in the absence of any evidence pertaining to the health risks associated with dogs exercising on sportsfields I would suggest this risk is overstated. Use of sportsfields by dogs does, however, put a clear duty on dog owners to clean up after them, and I would argue that this needs to be emphasised in any campaign targeting dog owners. It is also difficult to see why dogs exercising on sportfields would pose a greater health risk than people littering fields and leaving food scraps, including chicken bones, on them.
Our preferred option is the alternative which reads: Prohibition of dogs on sports surfaces and under control on a leash in the vicinity of sports surfaces when in use. This omits the 'at all times' clause in the recommended option. 
Requirement for dogs to be under control on a leash on roads etc. This is what has always been the case in the former Auckland City, and given that few dogs (including my own) are under control off leash, I would support this. It will also standardise across the region.
Dogs on a leash in cemeteries. Think about this. It's a no brainer.
Exemptions for working dogs. This mostly applies where there is stock on public parks, eg Ambury Park. This makes sense.
Temporary changes to access rules. Yes.
Where no other rule is specified, dogs must be in control on a leash unless otherwise permitted. Again, this makes sense.
For those of us who dwell in the long-neglected environs of South Auckland, it might be worthwhile stipulating that the Council investigate the possibility of more off-leash areas for dogs, especially if the at-all-times prohibition on dogs using sportsfields is adopted. The part of the city south of Penrose is very poorly served as regards off-leash areas. Moreover, those that exist have minimal or no amenities such as those taken for granted in other parts of the city, for example rubbish bins, plastic bag dispensers etc. In addition, off-leash areas must be able to be used as off-leash areas rather than as storage for earthmoving equipment.

Access to beaches and parks
The documentation is not clear, but what the Council is recommending is that dogs be banned from beaches and specified adjoining parks from 10am to 6.30pm between Labour Weekend and 31 March, and from 10am to 4pm from 1 April to Labour Weekend. For specified parks the times are 8am to 6.30pm between Labour Weekend and 31 March, and from 8am to 4pm from 1 April to Labour Weekend.
The suggestion for this, and I understand that this is supported by the dog clubs, is that the summer cut-off be moved from 1 April back a month to 1 March. Beaches and parks are less crowded in March as the weather starts to cool, and this would enable dogs to take advantage of the tail end of daylight saving to get out on the beach during daylight.

Local boards setting access rules for local parks and beaches
While a stated goal of the SOP is to standardise rules across the region, circumstances vary wildly, and what may be appropriate for Waiuku may not be appropriate for the more densely packed inner city. Allowing local boards to set rules cuts across the standardisation goal, but on balance would provide for more appropriate and sensible local outcomes. 

Rules that would apply across the region
Removal of dog faeces. (This also applies to the proposal - Q5.6 - that owners carry plastic baggies when walking their mutts.) I think everyone probably agrees that this would be great but - and this is quite a big but - it is difficult to see how this could be enforced. No, really, imagine the call centre gets a call from Mrs Jones who's just seen her neighbour leave a dog pooh on the grass verge. What's your neighbour's name? I don't know. What's the dog's name? I don't know. What sort of dog is it? A pitbull. (Oh yeah, right) Where does the dog live? Down the road. We'll be saying yes because it sends an important signal that dog owners need to clean up after themselves, particularly if the Council is to concede the use of sportfields to exercise dogs. But we don't have much hope that it will actually improve the general hygiene of the neighbourhood.
Retain the existing restrictions on number of dogs, with changes that restrict number of dogs per property. Fine. The people that don't look after their dogs (ie the ones that don't make submissions to the Council or walk their dogs anywhere, ever.) don't need encouragment to not look after more of them.
Requiring a menacing dog to be neutered. This was obviously put in to soothe some sections of the public but in fact there is very little evidence that neutering a dog will change its behaviour, especially if it is sufficiently badly behaved to be marked out as menacing in the first instance. We won't be saying yes to this, mostly on principle. If there was evidence that it worked then fine, but this is just pandering to talkback radio.
With regard to requiring a dog uncontrolled twice or more in a twelve month period to be neutered, the same applies. There is almost no evidence dogs stop wandering when they are neutered. The most problematic dogs are those who spend their lives tied up but manage to escape. This is a problem of problematic owners, and the Council could perhaps reflect on ways to deal with this aspect of the problem by lobbying for changes to the Animal Welfare Act.
Dogs in heat: Confinement would address issues such as wandering and aggression, but it should be noted that the aggression is usually dog-on-dog, not dog-on-human. Nevertheless, this would afford some protection to dogs who are not neutered for legitimate reasons (eg breeding dogs).

Other rules
Most of the suggestions can be supported as existing legislation covers them. 
In addition to the rules stated, I would recommend the Council advocate at central government level to strengthen the animal welfare laws pertaining to dogs. At present it is difficult to prosecute negligent owners because the protections afforded to dogs under the law are so minimal. It should not be OK to leave a dog tied to the front step on a short chain with only a small bowl of water for days on end: a survey of dog-bite reports in the papers shows that 40-50% of dogs attacks, especially attacks on children, occur with dogs which are chained up. There is a high probability that most of those dogs never get off their chains for a walk. While there is legislative provision that dogs must be allowed off to walk for an hour a day, this is too difficult to enforce at present.
With respect to barking, this is a critical issue for both dog owners and their neighbours. At present it is unclear if constant barking is covered by noise control rules or animal welfare legislation. If the Council embarks on any education campaigns they ought to include this information as part of them. It should also be prepared to remove offending dogs.

Other matters
Several other matters arise that are not covered in the official feedback form. 
Responsible dog ownership. The former Auckland City Council had a system where a dog owner could sit a test to show they were competent (at least on paper) and thereafter pay reduced dog registration costs. I suggest this system be carried over as it provided an incentive for people to learn the basics about dog ownership. An alternative might be if people could get a certificate from one of the dog training clubs saying they had attended say 12 sessions then they could pay reduced registration costs. Most dogs' behaviour will improve in 12 sessions, and doggie school helps socialise both the dogs and owners. Poor socialisation of dogs is the key driver of dog attacks and other canine bad behaviour.
Public education programmes. I would also submit that you support a public education programme of how to behave around dogs. Many recent well-publicised dog attacks involved unsupervised children, and also involved food. We need to be clear that dog bites will never be eliminated but they can be reduced by teaching people to exercise a bit of common sense. One effective place to educate the public would be through intermediate schools (intermediate-age children can have a significant influence on family behaviours).
Funding and fees. I also suggest submitters support the recommendation to set the level of funding, fee structure and level of fees through the Long Term Plan (p20 SOP). This way fees are open to consultation and feedback, and the process is more transparent than if it was just left to officers. I would support incentivising early registrations through lower fees, and cost recovery for dog custodial services (pound fees), as outlined in the alternative option. It is less clear that penalties for late fees would work as envisaged or if the additional expense would just mean people didn't bother.
Owner licencing. The final point is the issue of licencing dog owners. This appears on p6 of the SOP as an 'Operational initiative', and on p18 under Alternative Option stating 'Reduced registration fees through the Dog Owner Licence programme', and referring the reader to the policy on responsible dog ownership (p25). The policy on responsible dog ownership says nothing about licencing dog owners.
I would suggest that submitters strongly resist any suggestion of licencing dog owners. Again, this will appeal to the talkback demographic but it will do nothing to solve the problems associated with dogs including barking, roaming dogs and anti-social canine behaviour. It will simply increase compliance costs for the vast majority of dog owners who register, walk, and look after their dogs, and will do nothing to net those who do none of these things. At the margin, it will mean more people won't be bothered with the hassle and the costs, and there will be more unregistered dogs.
I suggest that in general the Council's stance of promoting responsible dog ownership is supported, as is a community education campaign. Licencing dog owners will achieve nothing and will be an additional cost on ratepayers. 

Pitbull Sharky says "Make a submission or I start with the chickens."


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shortening the supply chain

In recent months there has been a lot of discussion about the ability of families with children, and low-income households generally, to feed themselves, whether state-funded breakfasts should be provided to children in decile one and two schools, what if any obligation the private sector has to help feed children, all overlapping with discussions about whether that nebulous group known as the poor can afford fresh fruit and vegetables.
Often news sites such as the Herald and Stuff publish readers' comments on these weighty matters, and everyone has an opinion. Eating's something we all do, so we all know everything about it, right? Wrong. An analysis of the complexity involved in people's food choices is the subject of another post but in the meantime we've been thinking about those people - and there's always someone - who argue that the reason kids go hungry and the poor are overweight is because they're too lazy to grow their own vegetables.
Suppose you grow your own veges to supplement the household food supply. It doesn't solve the problem of acquiring protein, ie lean meat; it won't provide bread, rice, potatoes (at least not in sufficient quantities) milk, cheese, or olives; and until they invent the tampon tree and the pooh paper plant, growing your own veges won't solve those problems, either.
But there's another, more fundamental problem with this argument, and that is that it is just plain wrong. One of the things about snooping around the neighbourhood with dogs is that you get to see what people actually do as opposed to what people on blog sites say they do. And in fact there is an astonishing number of gardens shoved away in unlikely places all over the 'hood. Silverbeet and tomatoes in pots, front lawn taro patches, tomatoes in side gardens, you name it, all sorts of people are out there shortening the supply chain between grower and final consumer.
Here's some of our local favourites. Get off the couch and walk around your own neighbourhood. You might be surprised at what you find.  
Excellent small garden at the newly revamped Housing New Zealand flats. Tomatoes, onions, pumpkin and squash, beans and bok choy which miraculously hasn't been chomped by snails.


Beans, corn, tomatoes and a wee shade house in the flats around the corner, all huddled along the side of the building.

 The star of the neighbourhood. Shown are taro, tomatoes, and corn. Out of the photo are beans, kumara, onions and several banana trees.

Sometimes gardens don't provide food, but a small splash of colour to break the monotony of South Auckland's endless dreary cinderblock flats. Whether a few humble flowers or a small terraced vege patch, these gardens give their carers much more than just food.


The tragedy of Auckland's bee die-off continues unabated, such that it is now unusual to see three bees at the same time in the same place. So we were delighted to find these gorgeous girls in the garden earlier in the week. For you gardeners wanting to attract bees, the answer is here: grow exotic desert cacti that flower once every few years and whose flowers last a day. OK, it's a lot of cacti but as long as we remain of the view that the bee problem will sort itself out, them's the breaks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Not a political appointment

It was revealed this morning that John Banks - you know, the Party of One who got four (count them, four) cabinet posts - has appointed Catherine Isaac to head the committee setting up charter schools in lucky ole South Auckland. (A 1,500 bed men's prison, Brian Tamaki's promised land and charter schools? What have we done to deserve this shit-rain of terror?)  The government has back-pedalled from Banksie's announcement (the terms of reference have yet to drawn up, and the appointments are not confirmed, according to Education Minister Hekia Parata), and one wonders if National has just got its first taste of what a bully the former Mayor of Auckland can be.
The usual suspects have - with some justification in this case - complained that the appointment of Ms Isaac is political. Is it? News reports describe her as a potential leader of the ACT party, but have so far failed to mention she is also a former leader of the ACT party, under the name Catherine Judd. She was also a member of the last National government's Welfare Working Group, an un-august body whose working thesis was that beneficiaries are lazy bludgers who needed to be made poorer in order to be motivated to rejoin the workforce.  The WWG's misuse and misrepresentation of research and data stands alone in the vast pantheon of self-serving government documents. So if you were as horny to set up charter schools as John Banks is, then Catherine Isaac - a known quantity and someone the PM seems to think will appeal to women - is the perfect choice. She may not know anything about education, but it's obvious she didn't know anything about welfare, either.
So it all seems a bit rich for Ms Isaac to pop up and say that her's is not a political appointment. Pardon? It's the most blatant yet-to-be-confirmed political appointment yet from a government earning itself a reputation for political cronyism. Even richer is Ms Issac's claim that the whole ghastly charter schools experiment "is about New Zealand children". Has she not read her own welfare recommendations? They pretended to be about children, too, but are about tracking, monitoring and stigmatising their parents. Big difference.
It reminded us of something, somehow...Oh yeah. Thanks, Matt Groening.

Two New Zealands

First there is the New Zealand that appears to have no end of money to throw at burley blokes chucking a ball around a field. Hosting the Rugby World Cup cost Auckland ratepayers $100 million, although some of this was on improvements to the central city that were long overdue anyway. According to the Herald, as of last October budget blowouts had pushed government spending above $200 million. Plus $555 million in stadium upgrades, plus $39 million in direct losses from hosting the tournament. It is unclear if these figures include the $2 million cost of securing free-to-air TV broadcast rights.
To highlight just how important rugby is, the PM announced in 2011 that the government would pay a further $11 million to revamp Rugby League park in Christchurch so the Canterbury Crusaders would have a field to host rugby games in 2012.
So what does the New Zealand taxpayer get for this investment? Why, we're top of the IRB world rankings:

Give yourselves a pat on the back, Kiwis. This suggests that if we are prepared to spend the money, we do get the results.
What a shame then that as a country we are not prepared to make the same investment in our kids. New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of investment in children under the age of 5 of any country in the OECD outside of places such as Turkey and Mexico. 30 years of neoliberalism on steroids has gutted core government spending on social services including healthcare and education, resulted in barely rising incomes for low and middle income earners (the families charged with raising the majority of the country's children), and seen the emergence of what Guy Standing calls the precariat: people dependent on precarious employment and multiple low-paid part-time jobs, with wages kept low by an increasingly difficult to access welfare system and a fractured, multi-site service oriented workforce. Every New Zealand government since 1984 has blathered about wanting what's best for children, then proceeded to act in a manner that ignores their best interests. What is the outcome of our tight-fistedness? Why, we're 24th of 25 countries for children's health and safety, including infant deaths, immunisation rates, and death from injuries (graph from OECD. Note this uses an index to show how far countries are from the OECD average, and whether they are doing better or worse than average). 
No money, woeful results.

Thanks to Professor Asher from the University of Auckland for bringing this to our attention. The government has set up a ministerial committee on poverty as part of its agreement with the Maori Party. This should be drawn to their attention.