Thursday, July 25, 2013

A visitor

This little girl with her perfect stripes comes from over the road to chase the chooks, terrorise our cats and pounce on the humans from under the renga-renga lillies. This was the best photo we could get because she's never really still.

Here she is stalking one of the other cats.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Gerry Brownlee: Hogging space on the wrong side of history

The Mayor's transport funding consensus building group has completed its consentuating and released its final report on options for bridging Auckland's transport funding gap. Just to remind you: funding for the key projects in the Auckland Plan is short by about $12 billion.

The group's key finding was that unless Aucklanders were to face significantly higher rates and fuel taxes, some form of road charging would be required. The report points out that this would also have the benefit of reducing congestion at peak times as it would give motorists an incentive to travel off-peak and reduce short trips. The suggested options are a motorway network charge (favoured by a ratio of 4 to 1 in the public feedback) and a cordon charge. I suspect one reason people favoured the motorway charge was because they figure it will be easier to avoid. 

The important point about this report is that it is the agreed position not just of the usual suspects but also representatives from the cyclists, walkers, the Campaign for Better Transport, Child Poverty Action Group, the unions and the Environmental Defence Society. It's possible that a different group of individuals would have come up with a different set of recommendations but probably not that different. What is unusual about the report is that it makes very clear that as a matter of equity, public transport improvements and improvements to the cycling network must be in place BEFORE any charges are introduced. No problem there, you'd think: Aucklanders have been screaming for better public transport for years.

Which is about where Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee makes his entrance. The government has made it plain it has a particular distaste for funding Auckland's roading projects by getting Aucklanders to pay more. And it's not hard to see why: if the government is gouging the population through fuel taxes and tolled Roads of National (In)Significance then they don't want anyone else getting a bite of the cherry first. So on Nine to Noon yesterday, in an interview truly breathtaking for its lack of coherence,  Gerry: 
  • insisted the bizarre East-West link be brought forward (payback for National's freight lobby supporters);
  • maintained the gap was 'somewhat notional...and it is derived from a view about rail subsidies and how that works as well as some patronage calculations that are in there as well.' This is odd: the word 'patronage' appears twice in the report, and neither time in the context Gerry is talking about; 
  • claimed there 'is a difference between planning in the long-term sense and the immediacy of funding over that long term. And I think that's the sort of discussion we want to have with Auckland; the Auckland Transport Agency (no such agency, Gerry), Auckland Council over the next short while...' Hidden in the report are a couple of sentences to the effect that the government has refused to engage with the Consensus Building Group or the Council about any of this;
  • told Aucklanders there were 'no immediate problems'. Right. Moving on...;
  • suggested higher excise taxes didn't matter to consumers because of retail promotions;
  • argued that reducing congestion and getting people onto alternate forms of transport isn't a win-win because it 'raises the question about what the cost of alternate transport is. At the moment there's quite a heavy subsidy on the there's a lot of opportunity there [to increase public transport fares] I would think as you see the new services coming on...and the possibility of those trains filling up is quite a big revenue stream that could potentially come from public transport. There is a bit of a notion around some people's heads that public transport should be subsidised and should be cheap. I think it will always be relatively cheap but the real challenge is to get people to change their thinking...' No, Gerry, public transport is relatively expensive which is why Auckland has a congestion problem;  
  • said 'if you want to reduce congestion it doesn't seem to me you would have a revenue opportunity compatible with revenue coming from that congestion';
  • when pushed by Kathryn Ryan, told her she was 'sounding frantic'; and, lastly,
  • confused predicted with predicated. 
Do listen to the interview if you can bear it. And remember - a vote for National is a vote for expensive public transport and a motorway through your back yard.

In the meantime, the New Zealand Herald ran a reader's poll on what options should be used to raise the money. Top of the list? The motorway charge the government has rejected. At the bottom? Raising PT fares, as favoured by the Minister of Transport.

Who's gonna blink first?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why Peter Dunne will come back as a worm

We have long been of the view that Peter Dunne, member for Ohariu-Belmont and now an independent MP, will come back as a worm, giving him many thousands of years to contemplate his sins as a self-serving and out-of-touch member of parliament. We thought that the unravelling of United Future in this lifetime might be sufficient karma for the man with the exploding hair, but tonight came confirmation that he really is a knobhead and should be packing his worm beanie.

Mr Dunne has confirmed that he will not be supporting Hone Harawira's Feed the Kids Bill tomorrow, meaning it is unlikely to get to select committee. His reasons (according the the Herald) are:
"While I have no doubt the Bill is well-intentioned, and essentially laudable, I think it is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons,'' Mr Dunne said.
"Of course, there is a significant number of children who go to school to hungry, because they have not been properly fed at home, and of course poor nutrition has an adverse effect on learning and the subsequent development of the child. But that is not the issue - rather, the question is what is the best way of addressing this problem."
Sorry to be a bore, but children going to school hungry and the adverse effects of poor nutrition on learning and development ARE the issues. Mr Harawira's Bill offers a universalised and non-discriminatory way to address them. One thing we do know from overseas is that targeted, piecemeal programmes do not offer the advantages of universal programmes, and often fail to reach the children with the greatest need. Why do you think you know better, Mr Dunne?

Rather than supporting the comprehensive approach in the Feed the Kids Bill which guarantees equality of access, Mr Dunne is supporting KidsCan with its dubious record of sugary food and singling out '50c a day' children for charity.  

Mr Dunne, we hope you enjoy life as a slimey, blind thing constantly fretting about blackbirds. Maybe by the time you get back into parliament you will have learned some compassion.

Real grapes, dubious parentage

Engrish! In Auckland! Thanks, Chinese Herald.


Cuddling up in winter

Spider and Geno cuddle up in front of the fire

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Auckland Action Against Poverty: Demo for the beggars

Here's a selection of snaps from the demonstration organised by Auckland Action Against Poverty outside Smith and Caughey today. Smith and Caughey are one of three outfits that made submissions to the Council asking for begging to be banned. Great to see a fightback against this blatant class warfare.

Big ups to AAAP for organising this and getting people out on a gloomy winter's afternoon.

One of Spider's cousins performs for the crowd.

A toff tries to auction his oick.

Mayoral candidate John Minto (you know which side he's on) and the Mana team.

A liveable city for all? Now there's a novel thought!

Sometimes an actual beggar shows up, which can be, um, awkward...

Round up the usual suspects...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

"Offending every clean person"

We like to think of ourselves as somehow being a cut above our primitive forebears: the ones who let people starve to death in prisons; who apprenticed 5 year olds to sweep chimneys; and left the infirm and disabled to beg for alms in order to eat.

Turns out we haven't come that far after all. Following in the steps of local authorities the world over trying to deal with the inequitable outcomes of neoliberalism, the Auckland Council has before it a proposal to 'ban begging'.

And we know it will work. Because it always has in the past. Or has it? 

Sturdy beggar being whipped. The less fortunate can be seen in the top left hand corner.

Begging, it seems, is as old as humanity. And the respectable complaining about beggars is about as old. In 1538 the City of London unsuccessfully petitioned Henry the 8th for hospitals to house “….the miserable people lying in the street, offending every clean person passing by the way with their filth and nasty savours.” About the same time the Poor Laws directed “how aged, poor, and impotent persons, compelled to live by Alms, shall be ordered, and how Vagabonds and Beggars shall be punished." Punishment included being whipped or put in stocks for three days and three nights with bread and water only.

These days Councils avoid the stocks and whips and prefer instead to just move beggars on, or in the case of Auckland, prohibit begging altogether. This, of course, completely misses the point which is why are there so many panhandlers in Queen St now whereas once they were reasonably rare? Have the underclass, having lived like trolls for years under bridges, suddenly had a genetic mutation that has caused them to seek sunlight in the Queen St canyon and beg for alms? 

The science of genetics suggests not. It seems more likely the increase in homelessness reflects the chronic, grinding lack of income that comes from not being in stable full-time work combined with Auckland's severe lack of affordable housing (a problem also shared by many cities). While the Mayor, the Council and central government are wittering about housing and doing sod all, the outcomes of their unwillingness to act are impeding the lunchtime errands of the well-to-do.

Instead of pretending the homeless can be made invisible, it's time for someone at the Council to show some leadership on housing and implement an affordable housing policy that includes accommodation for single people. And instead of writing vague, wordy strategies, the Council needs to work with other agencies to get the indigent off the street and into programmes that will improve their chances of getting - and keeping - paid work. 

Much as whipping and hanging beggars couldn't disguise the economic savagery of Elizabethan England, banning begging won't hide the poverty and inequality that is a defining feature of neoliberal Auckland. It's just another band-aid solution brought to you by an elite with no interest in dealing with the underlying issues.