Monday, November 25, 2013

A big morning

Playing with your best mate, making silly old Mum chase you across the park while you run away with a mussel shell, followed by a big breakfast and more playing. That's a big morning for a little guy. Better take a nap...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Extreme makeover

These low-rent posters have started appearing in our little 'hood. And maybe elsewhere in Mangere and Otahuhu, too. Who knows?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Good news on vaccinations

There are times when instead of handing out brickbats, one is obliged to hand out a bouquet as well. And one such time was signaled on Friday by the news that vaccination rates among Maori and Pacific children had improved to the point where vaccination rates for Maori children exceeded that of Europeans in some District Health Board areas (Tony Ryalls' press release is here).

This is terrific news. Vaccination rates for Maori and Pacific children lagged behind for many years, and low vaccination rates were a significant contributor to these children being admitted to hospital for preventable diseases. Certainly a consequence of improved vaccination rates has been a fall in the number of hospital admissions for some diseases. It seems prevention really does deliver longer-term savings.

There are a couple of lessons to be drawn from these improvements. The first is that reversing long-term trends does not happen overnight: immunisation rates for Maori and Pacific children have been rising since the early 1990s but  improvement was painfully slow. The great leap forward came in 2005 when the Immunisation Advisory Centre pushed the Ministry of Health to set up a National Immunisation Register to measure, monitor and provide feedback on he progress of the national vaccination programme. The improvements were also helped along by setting a national target. It's been 8 years of hard slog, and well past the generally accepted political timeframe of three years but it has paid off.

The other lesson is that sustained improvement needs buy-in from the community, and collaboration across different sectors. Successive governments have talked for years about collaboration, joined-up government and all manner of other trendy nonsense, but genuinely collaborative efforts are rare. Here, the different players in the health sector realised they had a problem and acted at all levels: community, front line health providers, PHOs, District Health Boards, and the Ministry of Health.    

But the really good news is that this shows with some effort, not a whole lot more money and a political commitment to improving public health services, New Zealand's health equity gaps can be reduced or eliminated. 

Well done IMAC and everyone else involved. A well-deserved bouquet.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Garden mojo

After three years of not having the capacity to do much of any sort of gardening I'm pleased to announce to a waiting world that I have regained some gardening mojo. Here's some spinach, baby lettuce and a ginormous crop of snow peas (yum!!) The tomatoes are starting to flower, the potatoes look awesome and there's radishes on the way. Yay!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A living wage in Auckland

Auckland mayor Len Brown has finally piped up for his core voters in South Auckland and said he is proposing that Council staff are paid a 'living wage'. According to the Council's draft budget, the estimated cost of this is about $3.75 million, phased in over three years. The Mayor of Having a Buck Each Way has explained that he was supportive of moves to pay people a decent wage "provided it doesn't impact on ratepayers." This qualifier wasn't enough to stop the usual suspects working themselves into a lather at the prospect of the low-paid receiving more take-home pay.

The Chamber of Commerce's Michael Barnett stated: “What the Mayor is saying is that he will fix inefficiencies that should have been addressed long ago and use the savings to increase the pay of a favoured few – its [sic] populist politics...” Observe how those on the lowest wages are described as "the favoured few" without so much as a blush. The word populist is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people." Yet used here it becomes a term to belittle anything that challenges the prevailing pro-business, economic ideology promoted by organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce.

Singing a different version of the same song was the Employers and Manufacturers Association's Kim Campbell who blustered on Radio New Zealand that the Council needed to find "substantial efficiencies and reduce staff numbers" if it was even going to contemplate paying some workers more money. It is another odd use of language that a noun meaning something has the quality or property of being efficient is now, apparently, an actual thing you can find under the desk just by looking hard enough.
In reality, this is just the politics of hoping people don't look hard at the numbers and start questioning which pork-barrel projects lobbyists such as the Chamber of Commerce and the EMA support. The draft budget estimates the living wage proposal will costs $3.75 million over three years. But a quick look over the page shows the Council spending $461 million for the City Rail Link, and $184 million on AMETI (both over three years). Both of these projects are supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the EMA. The EMA and Chamber of Commerce have also welcomed government promises to help fund the East-West link. If this project goes ahead ratepayers will stump up half of the estimated $1 billion (yes, you read that correctly) cost. So while these Guardians of the Public Purse are shedding crocodile tears because ratepayers will pay $4 million to low-paid staff, they have no qualms about spending many, many millions more of ratepayers cash on a project for which there is as yet no business case or any assessment of economic, social or environmental impacts (prove me wrong, Auckland Transport, and put them on your website).

The living wage is not a perfect solution to low income (for example, it doesn't address the meagre incomes of the underemployed or unemployed) but it is an understandable response to working poverty and our growing income gap. The Mayor's move is more symbolic than meaningful, and the response from Auckland's real big spenders is equally lacking in substance.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

War memorials

Hidden away in a presentation given by Auckland Transport to the select few privileged enough to be informed about the proposed East-West link from Mangere to Highbrook, is a list of heritage sites that are in the new motorway's firing line. Otahuhu is an old suburb: it was once the southern edge of Auckland and the redoubt protected the areas northwards from marauding Maori. The large homesteads of settler farms in Mangere are still dotted along Massey Road. The old homestead on the corner of Piki Thompson Way and Great South Road could serve as a metaphor for Auckland's development. It was the surgery of former Prime Minister David Lange's father, now it houses a payday lender, and seems likely to soon make the ultimate sacrifice to a motorway. This is progress?

Across the road is the historic Otahuhu war memorial, which is also listed in the heritage areas threatened by the proposed new motorway. How historic is the memorial? Quite historic, as it turns out. Here's some dingy Sunday afternoon snaps.

The big phallic thing is a memorial to the Maori wars, while the headstone is a memorial to one Colonel Nixon who died in 1864. Poor old Mr Nixon has been shifted once already to make way for a motorway, now it's a distinct possibility he may have to be moved again. Obviously Auckland has learned nothing in the intervening 45 years.

There's also a larger memorial in honour of those who were killed in the First World War.

A later memorial plate commemorates those who died in, among other places, Malaya and Borneo. Why the hell did New Zealanders die in Malaya and Borneo? I still have no idea. Something about empires and Communists.

 And lastly, another metaphor for Auckland's lack of social and economic progress, especially for its working class. This is not only a memorial to the railway workers who died in the First and Second World Wars, but is a poignant memorial to the railway workshops themselves. The workshops existed in an era of full employment, where New Zealanders really did enjoy an egalitarian education system and could do clever stuff with their hands. Now it seems the only things we make are coffee and large, pointless infrastructure projects. Sorry, Auckland Transport, but this small slice of South Auckland is worth another fight of its own.


Sunday afternoon in the backyard, having a tummy rub. What's better than that?

Auckland Transport: transforming customers' expectations

Auckland Transport are well aware of the fact that the clocks up at the Otahuhu Transport Centre (a main public transport interchange) were variously wrong or broken (we blogged about it some time ago).  The clock that was wrong has been corrected, but the other has met a stranger fate.

In a remarkable display of initiative, Auckland Transport has dealt with the problem not by fixing the broken clock but by challenging customer expectations of a major transport hub, and simply removed the clock. People with reduced expectations tend to be less disappointed with the cruddy public services.

We think Auckland Transport lacks imagination:

Ironic public health joke of the day

In a neighbourhood already saturated with saturated fat outlets, Otahuhu is now getting a Carls Jnr: you know, the people who do meal deals with enough calories to keep a grown man going all day. Amusingly, the blurb on the Argyle Estates website talks about a retail development 'transforming the heart of Otahuhu'. They're probably right, but not in the way they intend. 

Carls Jnr is particular about where they choose their outlets - apart from low-income suburbs, that is. The sites need to large enough to put up a dine-in as well as a drive through, preferably with access to a main road.

The drive-through aspect is important. Overweight people get embarrassed waddling in public to collect their burgers so prefer to purchase from the privacy of their cars. But whether because someone at Argyle Estates has a sense of humour or because there's a council regulation requiring it, there's also 4 (4!!) bicycle racks outside so as to encourage people to come to Carls Jnr by bike and work off some of those toxic calories they're about to shove into their gobs.  This was snapped through the fence during construction.

 People in low-income communities often moan that their areas are targeted by junk food outlets, and indeed they are. But there is a reason for this, and we are (sadly, it must be said) in little doubt that Carls Jnr will make a killing in its new location. There is a solution at hand, of course, and that is, if you're tired of being targeted by the junk food death merchants, boycott their crappy food. Make you own hamburgers, oven-bake some fresh potatoes and grill your own chicken. Too hard? See you at the dialysis clinic.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reading with Roo

It can be a depressing world much of the time, and we sometimes forget that Good Stuff happens. Not earth-shattering good stuff, but quiet, working-away-at-the-coal-face stuff that makes a difference to people's lives. Without further ado, I present Reading with Roo.

Roo is a 4 year old retired greyhound whose Mum works at the Otara library. Roo goes to work and local kids come in and read to him. The children get to sit with a dog that's not their cousin's nasty pitbull, and they get to practice their reading. Roo, being a docile greyhound who's only good for about 100 metres a day, just sits and soaks up the attention and pats. The children can then see their photos on their home or school computer.

This is Roo:

And here's Roo's business card:

Awesome, Otara library. May Roo and the children have many happy hours reading together.

Junior - not sleeping

Junior's Auntie Emma thinks he sleeps all the time. That's not quite true, although he is a laid back sort of dude. And just to prove it, here's Junior with Mr Tennis Ball, or what's left of him. Adios, Mr T.

Evidence - just in case

One of our beautiful Sicilian Buttercups was nabbed yesterday by a dog that lives somewhere a block over. It came back this morning looking for another chook and while I was walking it off the property (yay for doggie treats!) its owners turned up. This is the 2nd chook I've lost so I was - um, how you say? - a bit of a jerk. I thought the Angry Young Man driving the wannabe gangsta car was going to thump me. Anyway, the dog has been picked up by animal control before and the owners were going to be in deep doo-doo because the dog entered our property to get the chook (Dear Other Jerk - it's irrelevant that the chickens are not in a coop). But what happens if the dog is confiscated? It goes to one of the region's animal shelters and is most likely put down. It's not dangerous, and it was looked after so that all seems a bit pointless. I just want it kept in its own yard and not killing our chickens. So we didn't make a formal complaint on the understanding that no more chickens would go missing. But if they do, here's the evidence that the dog entered the property. Feathers (this Sicilian girl put up a fight) in the front yard.

This photo is taken in exactly the same spot facing the same way and shows our mad, beautiful boy Winkle flicking his tale at something that's displeasing him up the street.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kindergarten cops: who's monitoring beneficiary kids' early childhood education?

In its latest round of welfare reforms, the government introduced a range of so-called social obligations sole parent beneficiaries need to comply with in order to continue to receive their benefit. Failure to comply with social obligations results in a financial sanction. One of the more controversial aspects of the reforms was the obligation that effectively lowered the age of compulsory education for children of beneficiary parents by requiring them to attend an approved early childhood education (ECE) programme from the age of 3 years. The legislation has some flexibility (beneficiaries must take "all reasonable steps") but the three regular readers of this blog will know that counts for little under this administration.

Approved early childhood education
But like so much of what has passed as radical reform under National's Social Development Minister, there now appear to some questions abut whether this is as reformist as it appears, and how it will work in practice. A recent press release from Child Poverty Action Group reflecting on the changes to ECE argued that "early childhood educators are now accountable for the compliance of parents in meeting compulsory attendance requirements" and that this "undermines the relationships which should be of high trust. Such high trust relationships are at the heart of the EC curriculum Te Whariki, and of other ministry documents such as Ka Hikitia, the Maori education strategy."

Let's deal with the trust issue first. It would surely be easier to get compliance for the new obligations if beneficiary parents felt they could trust their ECE providers. Ratting off parents is not a great way to foster trust (and how do providers rat off people who aren't enrolled?). If parents felt they could trust their providers, there probably wouldn't be a need to coerce people to use ECE through social security legislation.

More important is how the government intends to monitor whether beneficiary parents are sending their children to an approved ECE programme. Either they ask the beneficiary and trust them, or check up on them. What are the compliance costs of that for both WINZ and ECE centres, many of which are quite small. In addition, many beneficiary (and non-beneficiary) parents move regularly and this makes both compliance and monitoring difficult. Or WINZ could check ECE rolls off against WINZ data. This is feasible, especially with a government that is a world leader in data sharing on a scale that would not be tolerated in most democracies.

However, the mystery of how parents are to be monitored deepened with this response from Peter Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Early Childhood Council. According to this "both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development have repeatedly stated there are no arrangements in place to exchange information and no immediate plans to do so." But wait, there's more! "...were this sort of activity [information sharing] to be entertained by government, it would no doubt encounter an early childhood education sector unwilling to provide information that could be used for that purpose."

So how are beneficiary parents being monitored to ensure their children are attending ECE as required? And how many parents are being sanctioned for non-attendance, and on what basis? Instead of blustering and blathering about children's wellbeing, why doesn't the Minister work with her education sector counterpart and ensure there are affordable, quality, culturally appropriate (yes, culture does matter) ECE services in low-income areas. To be fair, the government has spent on ECE in South Auckland, just not in areas where it's most needed (take a bow, Takanini). A quality ECE programme in Takanini and its sister suburbs would be much more helpful than cutting benefits for something many parents have little control over.

Doorknocking 1

We have received credible information that the Minister for Pies Transport, Gerry Brownlee, is pushing very hard for the option of the Auckland Plan's proposed East-West link that wipes out substantial parts of Mangere and Otahuhu. One can only suppose that Gerry - a man in a safe Tory seat in Christchurch - isn't that bothered about turfing (mostly) low-income Labour voters out of their homes. So, since the fightback has to start somewhere, another local resident and I went collecting signatures in the 'hood for a petition to stop the bulldozers before they arrive.

Collecting signatures door-to-door (or doing anything door-to-door for that matter) is always revealing, even in a neighbourhood you know reasonably well. Every single resident in the path of Gerry's Great Folly will be disadvantaged as they attempt to find alternative accommodation in a ballistic housing market such as that presently being enjoyed in Auckland. But some will be more disadvantaged than others including: the 95 year old who has been in her modest house for 45 years; her neighbour who told me 'we don't need a motorway, we need jobs' (good luck with that under this National government); the (Type A) diabetic who lives with her brother and their elderly father in their modest but very tidy house with its lovely garden; and the elderly couple who have been in their house for 50 years. The wife has polio, is on oxygen and needs 24-hour care provided by her devoted husband. Where on earth are these people going to go?

And that's just in one street. There are similar tales in every single street sitting underneath the black line on the map. We'll post some of them as we go and maybe some photos. In the meantime, if you think this is unjust and inequitable please download a copy of the petition and send filled petitions to Roger Fowler, Mangere East Community Learning Centre, 372 Massey Road, Mangere 2024 by 15 November 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Garden, late spring 2013

Not much Awesomeness has been going on in my life recently because, for the first time in a few years, I've had the time and energy to do some gardening. I'm not one of the world's great gardeners, having far too messy a mind to order plants into the generally accepted levels of tidiness. Fortunately, a bit of watering and some compost covers most lapses. But it's late spring, the roses are rosing and the veges are vege-ing, and so we bring you "still life with flowers". (I bet no one's ever done that before.) The cast includes on of those dippy philodendron things that looks quite flash on our manky porch; a damask rose that was grown from a cutting many years ago; another rose from Bell roses, sacrificed to the  extension to the North-West motorway (a common Auckland tale); and flowers from the renga-renga lillies. I love renga-renga lillies because they're really tough. And the chooks like the young seed pods - they seem to be a sort of cavier for chickens. Sadly, as you will observe, my florist skills are not great. OK, they're non-existent.

In spring/early summer the bonsai collection also needs to be weeded, pruned, repotted etc etc. Like the garden, the bonsais are somewhat inexpertly done but the plants seem to do well enough, and the biggest threat in the last few years has been drought. Exhibit B is a pohutukawa rescued as a seedling from the wall on the Great South Road side of Mt Richmond. It's being trained over a rock and today the plastic container was trimmed down and about half an inch of dirt scraped off the top to expose more of the roots and rock. It also got a brutal haircut.  Pohutukawas are also incredibly tough, and the plant will survive this major surgery. The photo makes it appear the bonsai grower has a clue (if you don't look too hard). We don't but we thought it was worth showing off anyway.