Sunday, 30 March 2008

no pokie money please

have had a really busy day today, so won't post much. just an update re the cleaners, who are on strike on wednesday, because spotless services is not paying them the contracted price of $14 per hour and the backpay that is due. hope that people will support the cleaners on this issue.

also, good on this sports club for refusing to take gambling money. i'm sure they will struggle, but it's a stance we certainly need to see more of. i have some knowledge of the inside workings of one of these gambling charities, and its not pretty. the geographical areas they take the most cash out of are not the areas that end up getting the majority of the grants. and i saaw a lot of favouritism in the allocation of grants. how widespread that is, i don't know.

pokies are just evil. electronic betting on pokies is even worse. neither do i support on-line betting for lotto. if we could only persuade people to set aside that money for charitable organisations, nz would be a much better place.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

keeping it clean

good news today that will no doubt go unreported, as it's not a particularly important sector of the population. or is it? the signing of the "Principles for a Sustainable Property Services Industry" agreement is a significant step for cleaners.

they are really at the bottom of the heap, in terms of poor pay rates and conditions. the employment contracts act severely affected workers in this category. the move to contracted labour meant that these workers lost rights to annual leave and sick leave every time the contracting company changed hands. they are usually paid the minimum wage, so that when the minimum wage remained static throughout the 1990's, their wages in real terms continued to drop.

under a labour-led government, these workers have seen wage increases every year, as well as getting entitlement to four weeks annual leave and paid parental leave. their annual and sick leave provisions are now protected. the proposed changes to law making tea and meal breaks compulsory will also impact this group.

the new agreement goes further, and ensures that:
  • Clients receive and pay for good service;
  • Reputable service providers bid and win work based on fair contracting principles and reasonable reward;
  • Cleaners enjoy good jobs with sufficient hours, fair pay, reasonable work rates and safe conditions.
my understanding is that the agreement applies only to government departments at present, with the hope that it will have spin off effects in other sectors. it was great to see the property council of nz involved, along with the building service contractors of nz, and the service and food workers union. the mix of employer groups, porperty owners, unions and government getting together on an issue like this is a very good sign.

we sometimes forget the vital importance of these kinds of jobs. cleaners move through after hours, sometimes pretty late, doing their work quietly and efficiently. they definitely get to hear all about it when they don't do the job well. but when they do, nobody thinks about them much at all.

yet they are just as important to the proper functioning of our economy as any other group of workers. they deserve respect and appreciation, and fair pay and conditions for the work that they do. and let's not forget that the majority of workers in this industry are women. often women from low socio-economic backgrounds who are often struggling with more than one job, as well as having a family to look after. or foreign students struggling to earn a bit of income to help them survive.

i hope that the agreement does have significant impact, both in the public and private sector. i can't think of a group that deserves it more.

Friday, 28 March 2008

you want what?

i've posted before on blue chip investments, and remain totally unimpressed with the behaviour of those involved in setting up and peddling this investment scheme, including the lawyers, accountants and bank managers.

however, i was a little surprised at criticisms of the government's failure to act, levelled by olly newland and paul dale on radio nz this morning. there has been a call for government appointed statutory management. however, the shareholders have already appointed a liquidator voluntarily. the government can't just step in and over-ride that decision, unless there is some compelling evidence to do so. there is of course concern that the current liquidator will act in the interests of shareholders rather than investors. actually, the liquidator's job is to ensure that creditors get paid the maximum amount possible, and is therefore required to manage affairs to ensure that happens. as the liquidator points out:

...statutory management at this stage would harm any chance he had of recovering funds for investors...
He said he would rather have companies go into liquidation in a controlled way, and would make an announcement about further liquidations in the group by next week.
"I'm not going to use a sledgehammer. I'm not going to bring down a whole host of companies if I don't believe it's in your interests short term," he told the morning meeting.
"If you come in with statutory management today it's not going to get dollars for you in the next three months."

then there is the fact that the majority of investors gave "an overwhelming vote of confidence" in favour of the current liquidator.

but the other disturbing aspect about the criticisms today was the parallel drawn between blue chip investors and leaky home-owners. olly newland stated in the radio nz interview that the leaky homes problem was not the government's fault, but the government had chosen to provide compensation to homeowners. similarly, he believes that bluechip investors should get some form of compensation.

there are two major problems here. first, the leaky homes problem was a direct result of deregulation of the building industry, for which you can thank the national government of the day. the lack of oversight is something that both central and local government should have taken responsibility for, and have done so. the homeowners were defrauded, in that they were getting an inferior product and were relying on inspections made by local government.

the blue chip investors are not suffering as a result of government actions. they are suffering because many of them failed to get independent advice or failed to take that advice when they got it. they were naive, and most probably mislead. but the government has absolutely no responsibility in this case.

second, i would be really concerned if our government started handing out cash to cover poor investment decisions. that would really skew capital markets. it gives a signal that the government is willing to back bad practice, lack of due care and research. the bad players get to keep the money from their shoddy practices, and investors would become more careless in making investment decisions. there is just no substitute for putting in the work yourself or paying for some decent, independent advice before investing large sums of money.

there is a role for government, but only if fraud has occurred. currently, the liquidator says he hasn't found any evidence of fraud. he is seeking government funding to investigate further.

i do have a lot of sympathy for the people who have lost their life savings in amongst all of this. it's a very human tragedy, and having to face poverty in old age is devastating. but i don't think it's the taxpayer who is responsible for replacing lost capital. taxpayers should provide support services, in terms of decent superannuation, free public health system and so on, as would be the case for anyone suffering from poverty.

there may be a need for tighter regulation around information provided to investors. but i'd rather wait to see what is uncovered in the investigation on this case. and if there is the slightest evidence of fraud and collusion, i hope that prosecutions will abound.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


hi, i'm back! ended up taking a longer break than expected, cos i didn't really end up having too much of one. although i did have some fun experiences, like having lunch with a bunch of bangladeshis on saturday, and a bunch of keralites on sunday (kerala is a state of india, in case you were wondering), and attending an ethnic festival on sunday evening.

actually, the lunch with the group from kerala was interesting. mostly because, on the face of it, i was with a bunch of indians and i'm ethnically indian, so you would think we had a lot in common. but that's the thing with india - each state is like a separate country. they have their own language, style of dress, cuisine, traditions etc. so now i know a lot more than i did about traditional food from kerala - next step is to get my friends to cook some for me!

i was thinking about my last post over the weekend, and one thing that struck me was how quickly the josie bullock story died down. it was a major decision in terms of its impact on maori tikanga in the workplace, and i would have liked to see some debate in the media around that. i suspect the main reason for the lack of discussion lies elsewhere. when ms bullock first went to the media, she was immediately, publicly and very vocally supported by ms judith collins, MP. you may recall at the time that there was a pretty nasty atmosphere created by the don brash orewa speech. i do recall hearing ms collins on tv, radio and reading her quotes in the paper. but she appears to be curiously silent now. i've not seen a single press release from her on this issue. very strange, but i can assure you that i'm eternally grateful for her silence, long may it remain so. i'm also grateful that we seemed to have passed that unfortunate stage of our history - may dr brash have a lengthy and successful career in kiwifruit, and long may he continue to resist sir roger's advances.

i really hate to be agreeing with family first on anything when i oppose almost everything they stand for, but i find myself doing so on the issue of the "my bimbo" website. i totally refuse to link to it. to quote the family first press release (refuse to link to that too!) :

The website encourages girls to use plastic surgery and extreme dieting to get the perfect figure and children can earn “bimbo dollars” to buy plastic surgery, diet pills, facelifts, lingerie and fashionable nightclub outfits.

there was a bit about this at the end of world watch on radio nz today. i guess i'm feeling more annoyed about this because of coverage in the waikato times in the last week regarding the v8s. there are apparently jobs for about 35 attractive young women who have to be comfortable wearing hotpants, very short skirts and swimwear. these young women are apparently known as "grid girls". ok, i'm showing my ignorance - i've never watched motor racing before, so didn't know the terminology. but am well aware of the assigned roles for males and females. the boys get to drive the cars, the girls get to...

yes, i know there are some female drivers, but very few i expect. i hate that women get to be nothing more than eye-candy. i hate that the first story on this was on the front page of the waikato times, and the second story a few days later had a big picture of the girls on page 3. how is this even news? i'm sure the agency hiring these young women could pay for an ad in the situations vacant section of the paper. why all the free publicity?

i often feel like i'm one of the few women who would like to see more positive female role-models in the news - women who are celebrated for their academic, sporting or professional achievements (and no, i don't mean the "oldest" profession). it still annoys me that we have so little coverage of female sports in the sporting pages of our major newspapers, but for something like this they apparently have lots of space.

i know i've had a little rant before about the fixation on physical appearance. but "grid girls" and the "my bimbo" site go beyond a fixation - it's more of an active encouragement of women to spend little time thinking about serious issues, to be aware of gender disparities, to be politically active. instead, we should continue to be obsessed with our appearance, and to spend our hard-earned cash on cosmetic products and procedures.


Friday, 21 March 2008

sexism or cultural expression?

in listening to josie bullock and margaret mutu on radio nz this morning, i've been finding it really hard to figure out where i stand on this issue. for those who may have forgotten, ms bullock was the woman working in the dept of correction who refused to move from the front row during a departmental powhiri.

the human rights review tribunal has decided that the treatment was sexist, but it has refused to reward damages, because her dismissal was not deemed to be so. the two interviews this morning were a clear case of cultures colliding, as they seem to do much more regularly now that maori have started to reclaim their culture. maori are no longer in a framework where they have to feel cultural cringe, as was the case for much of the twentieth century. the development of maori media and maori political activism has meant that there are many voices in the public domain which can present the maori point of view in a coherent way. we, the public, are no longer getting such a one-sided story.

so who is right and who is wrong in this case? the personalities tend to cloud the issues somewhat. i found myself to be quite sympathetic to ms mutu's assertion that ms bullock had not taken the trouble to learn about and understand maori culture, nor had she chosen to engage with maori on this issue. certainly, ms bullock's responses to kathryn ryan gave the impression of someone who was never interested in negotiation or compromise, and didn't much care about causing offence. mostly because she herself was so busy feeling offended.

i could identify with the issue of cultural imperialism, of ms bullock viewing the whole situation through her own cultural lens, and not being prepared to accept that there might be another way to view the same set of circumstances. on the other hand, i can also identify with the view that culture is never an excuse for misogyny or inequality. in order to change cultures that are inherently misogynistic, one has to challenge them.

i have had to deal with this problem in another context. having grown up in nz, i find that my own views of the world often clash with women who have been brought up overseas. i look at the lives of some of the ethnic women i know, and find it appalling [i emphasise "some" - there are many ethnic women who don't live in this way]. i just don't think it's right. i don't believe that women were put on this planet to serve men. i hate it when i see these women refusing to make a decision but deferring to their husbands. in every way, their manner of living offends me.

on the other hand, by any measure, these women are much happier with their lives than i am with mine. they are confident, sure of their own identities, sure of their own place in the world, and love the life they're living. if i should challenge them, they would tell me in no uncertain terms about how they are right and i am wrong. some of their arguments would be religious, some would be cultural.

is it for me to say, then, that they need to be liberated? what would liberation mean for them? a likely divorce, leading to a life of poverty as they struggle to bring up children on their own, and find that they now have to do things they never had to bother with before - like paying the bills for example, or taking the car to a mechanic, or any number of small tasks that their husbands currently do for them. they would have face loneliness and exculsion. and to what end? maybe they would be free, but they certainly wouldn't be happy.

the question is: am i viewing their lives through my own cultural prism and making judgements that are arrogant (in that i'm assuming my way of thinking is better than theirs)? let me make it clear that the women i'm talking about don't suffer any abuse - no physical violence, no mental torture, no constant putdowns. they just live in a patriarchal framework where the man is the head of the house, and the household revolves around him.

i remember very vividly a conversation i had with an ethnic woman a few years ago. she said "you know, i fell into all that liberation bullshit. i accepted it, and left my husband. i had a really difficult time. and all those women who would spend all day talking about women's rights and equal opportunity, none of them wanted to know me after 5pm. none of them ever came to help me when i was struggling, they just didn't care."

trying to achieve cultural change is never an easy thing. one thing i do accept is that the change has to come from within the community, ie the people within the situation have to want to change, otherwise it's a waste of time. i remember watching an interview with some saudi women last year, who basically said "we need the rest of the world to leave us alone, and to let us work out our own solution. we don't want western feminism imposed on us. let us find our own way to deal with the current situation, and find solutions that we feel comfortable with."

i also believe that challenging the current status quo is not always helpful. because it puts people in a defensive position, and when they're defensive, they're not ready to listen and they're not prepared to consider change. sometimes, by being challenging, you actually entrench the status quo. it's better to build up a strong relationship, build up trust, and achieve change through dialogue and encouragement.

so was josie bullock right to do what she did? on balance, i think it wasn't. it just hasn't helped anyone, and if anything, has been pretty divisive. i understand her point of view, but i don't agree with her approach. was the human rights review tribunal right in its decision, basically saying the powhiri was sexist? at this stage, i just can't say. i'm just glad that it wasn't me who had to make the decision.

whew, that was a long post. it's going to have keep you guys going for a few days, cos i am having a break over easter! hope you all have a good break too.

Thursday, 20 March 2008


this piece by greg palast was posted by daleaway on public address system today - a piece about the sub-prime mortgage mess in america, and what it had to do with eliot spitzer. for those who don't understand what sub-prime mortgages are about, this presentation posted on "the standard" is really quite good.

sub-prime mortgages basically seem to be loans made at a lower-than-market interest rate. why would they do it? because they were in the same situation that i've previously mentioned about nz banks - they had too much cash and had to lend it out. so they got creative about how they could get people into debt who wouldn't normally qualify for a loan.

that it is all collapsing is hardly surprising. what is really appalling though is the $200 billion dollars of (presumably) taxpayers money put into these financial institutions by the federal reserve bank, to save their butts. this massive amount of money did not go to the people who are now unable to pay their debts and are losing their homes. no, it's going to the lenders who were prepared to loan money recklessly.

you may say that the ones losing their homes were stupid to take on debt that they couldn't afford to pay. and yes, i could sympathise with that view. but on the other hand, i think about the nz situation, and there have been countless numbers of "financial experts" holding seminars up and down the country in the last 5 years, persuading people to invest in rental properties, with 100% financing. for those who weren't financially savvy, the dream of success was put in front of them and made to look so sweet and easy. the capital gains would take care of it all, soon the amount you lend would be a much lower proportion of the total value of the property.

the racial aspect of this is very disturbing:

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

i don't know where he gets his figures from, but if true, this means that poverty becomes entrenched among the targetted racial groups, as they lose whatever assets they previously had. that poverty cycle tends to insure a good supply of cheap labour, as these people will take on whatever job they can just to feed their families. often they are working two or three jobs.

the current american administration is not interested in helping them out of that poverty. it could have taken the option of providing targetted mortgage rebates or assistance for the people who are defaulting. the end result would have been that they could keep their homes and the financiers would still get their money, thus halting the collapse of the sub-prime market. but they have chosen not to do that.

how on earth is it that this not heading the news? why do we get 5 minutes on heather mills, and not 10 minutes on this? i go back to my post about zimbabwean new zealanders, and wonder why our media wants to highlight $900,000 spent on the healthcare of some hundreds of people, yet is much quieter on the "one fifth of a trillion dollars" being paid to crooks.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


shama means a lighted candle. in urdu poetry, it is a very strong symbol for the feminine. the male is the moth who is drawn to her flame, gets burnt, blah blah blah (sorry, i really don't have a romantic bone in my body, and am totally not into poetry!). the lighted candle is also a symbol for guidance and support - a light in the dark, to help you on your way.

shama is the name we chose for the hamilton ethnic women's centre. it was a symbol that south asians, arabs and north africans could identify with, and best suited our vision for the centre as a place of support for ethnic women who were struggling. the centre was established in 2003, though the work to establish it began well before that.

today, i had occasion to sit around with a couple of other founding members and reminisce. we talked about the struggles in the early days; the problems with communication across various cultures, across employment levels and across various levels of proficiency with the english language. we talked of the on-going struggles with funding, the difficulty of finding and keeping volunteers and staff.

as we talked through the history, it reminded each of us of how little we had known about basic things (filling out funding applications, starting and running programmes, conducting interviews for prospective staff etc) and how much personal commitment is involved in establishing and runnning a community-based service organisation. the skills all have to be built up, and we certainly did a lot of learning from our mistakes.

as we worked at building up the centre, each of us was going through our own personal crises. but the work we did helped us to support each other during the difficult times in our own lives. we have developed strong bonds, a connection that can't be broken, even though we have often argued over various issues.

one of the most wonderful things about voluntary work is the people you get to meet. i have so much respect and affection for the women who have been involved with shama in one way or another over the years. we kiwis don't often realise what a depth of talent we have in this country, what wonderful people we have working away quietly at their chosen issue without asking for anything in return.

one thing i've learned from working with shama is that everyone has a story to tell. everyone has been through some personal tragedy or some difficulty. we are so quick to judge people in many ways. i remember an older woman who works with refugees in hamilton, who i had always thought of as a bit of a fusspot (see, i have my prejudices, just like everyone else!). but i heard her speak one day of a daughter of hers who had died at the age of 8. as she talked of how she had held this dying girl in her arms, then how she had coped afterwards, i was simply amazed at the courage and strength of this woman.

if i had my way, i'd make it compulsory for everyone to do 2 hours of voluntary work every week. except that i know it would defeat the purpose. voluntary work builds a sense of community and of social responsiblity, but that only happens when it's comes from the heart, from a personal conviction and desire to be involved. but i can truly say that the rewards are much greater than the time and effort you put in.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

zimbabwean new zealanders

i was going to post about something else entirely today, but i've just been stewing over this report in the dom today about the cost of AIDS treatments for zimbabwean refugees. it just made me so angry. the article had no other purpose but for us to feel angry at the amount of taxpayer's money these foreigners were soaking up. it's screaming "dogwhistle" so loudly, i practically have to put my hands over my ears.

for a start, i just don't see the purpose of measuring one particular health issue for just one community. it is targetting, of the worst possible kind and gives no useful information.

second, if we are going to take on refugees, then we take them on as they are, with all the physical and mental health problems they bring with them. these people are suffering, that is why they are refugees. if we care enough about them to bring them here, then we should care enough about them to feed them, house them, educate them and heal them. these costs will be more than for other groups, because refugees are severely disadvantaged.

third, the worst form of charity is the one that keeps reminding the recipient of how grateful they should be for our generosity. it puts the donee in a continual position of subservience, and is humiliating. better not to give at all than to do so grudgingly and carpingly.

fourth, when do these people get to shed the label of "refugee"? how many days, weeks, months or years does it take for them to be called zimbawean new zealanders, and for it to be acceptable for them to enjoy all the rights and facilities enjoyed by other new zealanders? as the article does point out, many of these people are taxpayers, so why should we grudge them the use of taxpayer funded services?

finally, when are our papers going to stop trying to teach us how to hate, how to set up one group against the others? what makes this kind of thing so despicable is that the target group is usually one that has the least ability to fight back. they already feel vulnerable and unwelcome, how can they possibly respond to an attack like this?

it is up to you and i to provide the voice that they don't have and can't have. as i've said in previous posts, we must complain to our news media that we just don't find this kind of reporting acceptable.

Monday, 17 March 2008

women's expo

had a nice restful day, today which i needed it after being so busy yesterday. i went to tauranga for their ethnic festival, which was extremely successful. there were hundreds and hundreds of people there, enjoying the food, crafts, and entertainment. events like this are so important in bringing different communities together and breaking down barriers. it was nice to catch up with members of the bangladeshi community, who won a special award for their charitable work in the community.

then i rushed back to put in a couple of hours at the women's expo. sue moroney (MP) has been advocating a law change to make sure that tea breaks and lunch breaks are compulsory. it was amazing how many people didn't realise that employers do not have to allow a tea break under the law - you actually have to make sure that it's included in your employment contract. this situation came about after the national awards were scrapped in 1991.

while most employers are responsible enough to provide breaks, (and the good ones provide free tea & bikkies), it's usually the younger workers and those in low paid jobs that are most vulnerable in this area. i talked to a 17-year-old who only got a 15 minute lunch break in a 7 hour working day. and there were plenty of teachers who signed up to our petition, saying they never got tea breaks as they spent the time kids were out tidying the classroom and preparing for the next lesson. if anyone deserves tea breaks, it's definitely our teachers!

but the most bizarre experience yesterday was talking to a woman, who did sign our petition, but told me that she believed women's rights had gone way too far in this country. while i wasn't too surprised by that view - i hear quite a lot from younger women - i was shocked when she said the country shouldn't be run by a woman leader. she believed that only men should run the country. i swear, this was a very nice, blue-eyed young white woman. it certainly took me by surprise. i pointed out to her some of the policies brought in under helen clark's leadership - cheaper doctors visits, raises to the minimum wage, paid parental leave, saving for superannuation etc etc - but it was no good. she just couldn't see any good in it, and held to her position that only men should lead the country.

i was a bit naughty, and asked if she had any religious affiliation. she told me she was christian, and i left it at that. none of my business really. but i was left feeling rather uncomfortable, and even a little sad, at her point of view. after so many women have fought so hard to open up opportunities for other women, i would hate to think any of that effort would go to waste.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


not too much to say tonight. been a tiring week, with a busy weekend coming up. honestly, i go to work to take a break from my weekends!

tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of the war in iraq. there's not anything deep and meaningful i can say about it that hasn't been said. all i want to say is "please stop now. go home". excellent interview with joseph stiglitz on radio nz this morning, about the financial costs of the war.

i hardly ever watch close up (or campbell live for that matter), mostly because it's dinner time or i'm otherwise busy with the kids. but i watched tonight, and was in tears watching the story of the little girl with cancer. and then found i had tears in my eyes again just watching the child cancer foundation ad later in the evening. it's amazing what some people have to go through, and i wish that family all the best for the future. guess it's a reminder for the rest of us to appreciate what we have.

finally, thought this was an interesting piece in the herald today, about muslims in the west struggling to find their place. although i don't believe the dichotomy is quite so simplistic as the author presents it. it's not just a simple choice between extremism and xenophobia. there are also cultural factors to be thrown in the mix. muslims come from such a wide range of countries, each with their own cultural practices and sometimes cultural interpretations of islam. it's also a process of shedding some of that cultural baggage, and learning what to take on and what to leave from western culture, while staying true to the values of our faith. it's certainly not an easy process.

Friday, 14 March 2008


i think of them as my cousins. navel-gazing must be the antonym to stargazing, in that in implies introspection and a focus on the self. which it not to say that it's a useless activity. actually, it's a very useful one - it's important to look inwards, assess one's own faults and weakness, appreciate one's strengths, and think and plan about one's future. navel-gazing is about building a strong sense of self, and a strong sense of direction.

john key thinks navel-gazing is a total waste of time. it's apparently useless activity carried out by pencil-pushers and bureaucrats, nasty little people hiding in offices in the capital, craftily working out how to fleece taxpayers. one of the things i love about opposition attacks on our hard-working public servants is that it virtually guarantees labour the seat of wellington central! and grant robertson is an excellent candidate who will make a great MP.

but this regular insult to the public service needs to be seen for what it is. i know some of the people mr key is talking about.

they are the staff at the office of ethnic affairs, the office of pacific island affairs and te kaunihera maori. many of them work during the weekend and evenings (as well as the full working week) because this is when community groups meet. while minority communities are becoming a larger proportion of the population, mr key doesn't want these offices to have any increase in staff to deal with their needs.

they are the staff at the human rights commission, the families commission, the ministry of women's affairs and the children's commissioner. presumable mr key believes that minority groups, families, and children should not have advocates within government. they should not do research to see what impact government legislation and policy has on vulnerable groups.

they are the health and disability commissioner, the independent police conduct authority, the prisons inspectorate and the ombudsman. presumably mr key doesn't believe members of the public should have someone to complain to if a government department provides shoddy service. he doesn't want independent oversight of the public service, to ensure that everyone gets fair and proper treatment?

they are the department of conservation, the environment commissioner and the crown research institutes. perhaps he thinks we shouldn't bother protecting endangered species, nor investigating the impact of the agricultural sector on greenhouse gas emissions. perhaps he's not interesting in funding good research which can lead to innovation and underpin our economic success. this may be why he has rejected the $700 million government funding proposal.

they are the special education services staff, the truancy service, the new zealand qualifications authority, and the education review office. does he want to reduce funding or staff numbers for children with special needs? does he think we shouldn't have independent reviews of our schools, so that we can ensure they all meet the high standards we expect of them? maybe he thinks we should do away with external exams - i know my kids would love that, but would most parents? and here is hon chris carter's response today during question time regarding truancy:

The Ministry of Education has introduced significant enhancements to truancy services this year. A new contract has been signed with the Non-enrolment Truancy Service, and the Ministry of Education has picked up responsibility for managing the most difficult cases and indeed has hired 10 extra staff to do this work. According to the Leader of the Opposition we should not have hired those extra staff. Does Mr Key want me to sack the 10 new truancy staff in order to cut staff numbers in the Ministry of Education?

i could go on, but i'll stop there. mr key insults good, honest, hard-working people doing difficult work under what are often very trying circumstances. he has insulted them all, because he refuses to name which of these staff will lose their jobs, or exactly which one of them are the pencil-pushers and navel-gazers he so casually derides. he also rules out the possibility of implementing any new programmes or policy, because to do so would mean hiring new staff, and he says he will keep the numbers capped. or if he does implement anything new, it will mean that some existing staff would have to lose their jobs.

well, i would like to pay a tribute to our public service, the least corrupt in the world. it's time we valued them for how much they contribute to our wellbeing.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

research funding

i'm really pleased to hear about the extra $700 million research funding for the agricultural and food sector. scientists have definitely had a rough time in this country, although things have been getting better in the last few of years.

i know a little bit about our public research organisations, having known closely people who work in this area. the worst period would have to be the 1990's, which saw drastic cuts to the science budget, every year. there were endless rounds of redundancies, restructuring and name changes. i swear, every two or three years there would be mounds of obsolete stationery due to the latest name change.

all staff moved to contracts that were dependent on the latest funding round. their jobs were under threat every year, as they waited to see whether or not their funding bids had been approved. i watched the stress this caused, and the health problems. these were people who were well settled, with kids at school and mortgages to pay. it was devastating for those who did lose their jobs, and there were many. those in their 50's were practically unemployable. and it wasn't much easier for the survivors, watching what was happening to their colleagues, and wondering if it would happen to them next year.

it wasn't like they could go on strike. not only was the employment contracts act a barrier, but who would pay attention? they weren't going to have the impact of, say, university lecturers going on strike.

it's easy now to see how destructive this underinvestment was. new zealand is lagging well behind when it comes to R&D investment, and there is no economic growth without innovation. i don't doubt that some reform was needed in the scientific community in those days. however, there was no recognition that the best quality research comes when there is a freedom to experiment, to go off on tangents, and to fail. actually, some very important learning comes from failure. all of that requires a high level of investment and security of funding.

the research budget has been going up in recent years, and the funding cycle is no longer annual. there is also job security, in that jobs are no longer on the line if funding doesn't come through. this has much reduced stress levels and improved the working environment for our scientists.

and the new research funding is yet another step in the right direction. the best part though, is that the private sector is stepping up and showing a willingness to put money in. no doubt the changed tax rules around R&D expenditure is an added incentive for our companies to put in the money that they should have been putting in years ago. it's good policy all round.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

a life for a life

i was listening to rita croskery on radio nz this morning with considerable sadness. she is the mother of michael choy, the young man murdered by bailey junior kurariki. i felt sad for her loss and pain. i can't imagine what it must be like to lose a child, but it must be extremely difficult to cope with losing him in such a needless and violent way.

it is impossible to provide her with true justice. the closest we could get would be to take the life of kurariki, so that he suffered exactly what his victim suffered. but even then, he would not suffer what rita croskery has suffered, nor can the loss of his life relieve her of the pain of losing her son.

in fact, justice in absolute terms can never be achieved. the victim can never be fully recompensed or brought back to the position they were in before the crime took place. which is why retribution or revenge as a basis for the justice system just doesn't work. and this is why the victim or representatives of the victim do not sentence the offender. that is left to an independent third party, the judiciary.

there is no doubt that part of the role of the justice system is punitive. deterrance is a factor in the sentence meted out. the death penalty should be the ultimate deterrant. except that it isn't. i've seen no evidence to show that murder levels in states that have the death penalty is lower than states that don't.

the next level of punishment is to have the offender incarcerated for the rest of their life. that is closer to justice, in that we take away the pleasures and freedom of life and confine the offender to a living death, as it were. this satisfies the need for vengeance in a less violent way, and it's hard to argue from the victim's point of view that anything less should be considered. as a society, however, we have to consider what is best for all of us - what we can sustain, and what we want to achieve from our justice system. can we and should we be putting so many resources - so many of our hard-earned tax dollars if you will - on keeping ever larger numbers of people in prison for life?

while rita croskery does not go so far as to advocate a true life sentence, she certainly makes it clear that she wants kurariki to serve his full term in prison, without the possibility of parole. but she wants more than that - she wants the sentence to continue beyond that period by ensuring that he continues to be monitored by the justice system once he leaves prison. she gives no particular time frame for this.

in fact her responses to the interviewer are rather confused around these questions, and i felt that the interview was in some way exploitative. the whole interview seemed to take advantage of her pain and loss. she didn't quite know exactly what she wanted - at least in a practical sense. but the underlying message was of a woman who felt short-changed by the system, felt strained by the pressures of constant hearings and wanted more punishment for the young man who had deprived her of her son.

one can hardly blame her. and i've yet to see a newspaper article quoting a victim who agreed with the sentence given out. at the end of the day, offenders will come to the end of their sentence, and there needs to be a transition period for them to become a part of society again. it's only when they can come back into the fold to find community, connections and self-worth, that the chances of re-offending are lessened.

it seems such a difficult thing to ask ms croskery to accept that kurariki will have a life again, and a happy life at that, when her son never will. but unless she can accept that, unless we can all accept that, there is little hope of offenders becoming anything else. in which case, it's time to ditch the resource management act, and to raise taxes so we can start building enough prisons. every time you hear a call for harsher penalties, think of two things: are you prepared to have a prison next door to you? and are you prepared to pay more from your income to have it built?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

beyond tolerance

i've just got back from the interfaith forum, and it has been a lovely experience. it was a chance to catch up with old friends and meet some wonderful new people. it was also a chance to reaffirm our commitment to creating peace & understanding between faiths and cultures.

the women's forum on sunday was great, with contributions by talented women, some of whom were religious leaders. i really enjoyed sr catherine's explanation of the six stages of faith or spirituality, as well as the personal experiences shared by some of the women. on sunday evening, we had an address by rabbi david rose, visiting from scotland. he gave us a rundown of interfaith activities in scotland, which were very well supported by their government. i particularly enjoyed his perspective on how to make interfaith more attractive to the kinds of groups who are most unaccepting of others (and believe me, these exist in every faith community).

but the best parts of the forum were outside of the programme, like praying with a group of muslim women under the trees in front of parliament. later in the afternoon, i was lying in the sun near that very spot with a couple of buddhist women, and we had the most amazing conversation. sharing our experiences, from our own faith perspectives, was extremely powerful. i found that the discussion helped to be stronger in my own faith, even though i was sharing with people who believed something fundamentally different. but it was the common values that helped us to understand each other's experiences and to learn from them.

at dinner on sunday night, i was sitting next to the race relations commissioner, joris de bres. this man is a national treasure, and is one of the heroes i talked about in an earlier post (i know you may read this at some point my friend - just don't let it go to your head!). we had a neat group around us, with some lively and entertaining conversation.

this afternoon, i was on "the panel" on radio nz. if you missed it, you can catch the first half here, and the second half here. it was an all-female affair - two women panellists and a female host. don't think that has happened before, and it was fun. when it was over, jane clifton was sweet enough to drive me to the airport. we had a great discussion on a variety of political topics as she navigated rush-hour wellington traffic.

all in all, i've come back home rejuvenated and inspired by a multitude of experiences. i feel spiritually uplifted, and inspired to continue doing the things i do, even though it tires me out so much. it's experiences like these that reaffirm my faith in humanity and the goodness of people. and it's why interfaith activity is so important - because it is so much harder to hate a whole group of people when you've just had positive interactions with a few members of that group.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

not so blue chip

today saw the inevitable retaliation for the retaliation, retribution for retribution, revenge on revenge. the attack on a jewish religious school is tragic though entirely predictable, and it seems the gandhi warning of "an eye-for-an-eye will make the world go blind" is becoming increasingly true. there certainly seems to be a high level of blindness that allows hate and anger to continue the killing of innocents. the peace talks will apparently continue, in spite of the latest attrocity. maybe this latest round of violence will spur them on to actually come to a conclusion.

the investors of blue chip have a rough time ahead of them. blue chip was involved in selling auckland apartments as an investment. the problem was that the apartments were sold to investors at a price well above their market value. the valuations were apparently carried out by in-house valuers, there were in-house accountants and lawyers, and the sales were not made by agents registered with the real estate institute.

our firm was made aware of one of these investments a couple of years ago. we were strongly against it at that time, due to the incredibly high level of fees being charged, and concerns around future cashflows. the initial couple of years of losses were to be funded by extra borrowing, which is never good. investors were lured by the usual carrots of high capital gains, and the ability to offset tax losses against other income. but as i've said in a previous post, tax losses are cash losses ie you must have the cash to cover them. if you have to borrow to cover your annual losses, you go down a debt spiral very fast.

and in this case the valuations didn't stack up. the result is that many investors borrowed significant amounts of money, well over what their apartment was worth. they are now at risk of losing their own family home in order to pay off the debt. it seems almost criminal that banks were willing to lend money on these investments without independent valuations. martin dunn (in the radio nz piece i linked to above) is alleging collusion of bank managers in the whole scheme.

in this case, potential investors would have saved themselves a lot of grief if they had gone for independent advice, and then taken that advice. i believe that any sensible chartered accountant would have advised against this investment, just as we did. some background research on the values of similar appartments already on the market should have been done as well. and it would also help to remember the maxim that if it looks/sounds too good to be true, it almost definitely is.

and i'm hearing more stories of banks trying to push debt on to their customers. with the collapse of so many finance companies, people have been taking their money back to the safest investment they know - a good old bank term deposit. with all that money coming back in, the banks are desperate to lend it out. all i can say is avoid the pressure if it is being put on you, and be very careful of overextending yourself if you're thinking of buying a rental property.

i'm off to the interfaith forum tomorrow, so may not be able to post for a few days. i've also got a spot on radio nz's "the panel" on monday, so wish me luck!

Friday, 7 March 2008

the deficit

oops, that tiltle sounds like an accountant's version of a john grisham title! but of course we accountants are much more interesting than lawyers. no really, we are. just think how much time has been spent over the last few years talking about the massive government surplus and that miserly dr cullen, holding on to all of it instead of dishing it out in tax cuts.

well, today the truth is finally emerging. now that we have a (shock, horror) deficit, there is hope that people will finally understand that "operating surplus" had very little to do with actual cash available to spend. so the "operating deficit" also means that there is still cash to put towards tax cuts or increased government spending. the loss is mostly on paper, as a result of the drop in international share prices.

which brings to light the dishonesty of the national party, its supporters and many media commentators who have been pushing the line in my opening paragraph. they have all been happy to say "dr cullen is sitting on a surplus of $11 billion dollars", and pushing hard for tax cuts, when they knew full well that there wasn't $11 billion dollars to be spent.

further, from the cash surplus, money was needed for other things: investment in infrastructure (such as roads) which had been massively run down over a decade, new buildings for hospitals and schools, and saving so that we can afford superannuation as the population ages. i truly believe history will show that dr cullen has been a magnificent manager of the economy, with the courage to hold out and do the right thing in the face of enormous pressure from the media and opposition parties.

tax cuts in previous years would have been inflationary, so he held off. now that the economic downturn has arrived, he is well prepared to deal with it. he is the ant compared to the national party grasshopper. i loved this quote:

While this [ie the deficit] is a downside, the upside for Dr Cullen - who has been well in the black for many a year - is he can now have a go at National over tax. Dr Cullen mused that when the Government's coffers were full National would call for a tax cut – given that there is now a deficit he wondered whether that meant there should be calls from the Opposition for tax increases.

but no, hon bill english is saying there is still enough money for tax cuts. not much of a surprise there. one would hope he might also admit he was wrong to be calling for large tax cuts in an inflationary environment back in 2005, but i'm not holding my breath. (well actually, it was john key who is was the finance spokesperson for national then.)

personally, i'd prefer not to have tax cuts but would rather the money was invested into things like tertiary education (increasing the numbers getting student allowances, keeping fees down while increasing wages), or into research, and certainly into more measures to reduce child poverty. unfortunately, i don't think the political climate would sustain this, and tax cuts may be useful at this point in time to reduce the impact of the economic downturn.

no change in the official cash rate though from the reserve bank. i have to say that i've got some sympathy with dr bollard. for years he's been warning us that we've been borrowing too much, but no-one has been listening. now that high interests rates are starting to bite, he's basically saying "you made your bed, now go lie in it". which is not nice, but really, if he doesn't do it, how are we going to learn to live within our means. it's just not sustainable to keep spending more than we earn on a national level.

tax cuts won't help solve that problem. the government can only do so much. it's up to the rest of us to fight that consumer culture pushing us to spend, spend, spend.

tomorrow is international women's day, and i've got a breakfast meeting. i really hate breakfast meetings, especially ones that start at 6.45am. will report back on it tomorrow.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

prayer time

thought this was an interesting press release calling for a change to the parliamentary prayer. i wonder if it will be picked up by the mainstream media. it would certainly have made the headlines if the call had come from javed khan (president of the federation of islamic associations of nz). then there would have been the necessary responses from bishop tamaki & glyn carpenter about the threat to nz's christian heritage, minorities trying to take over the country etc etc. but this statement comes from a hindu leader, so let's see what happens.

i've never heard of rajan zed, and don't know which part of the country he's a leader in nor which branch of hinduism he leads. but good on him for speaking out. apparently a survey of MPs found that "84 per cent of respondents wanted the status quo". it would be interesting to know how many didn't respond to the survey. no doubt many MPs would just not want to take the flak that changing the prayer would involve.

personally i'm pretty neutral about the wording. a change of about 7 or 8 words would make it a lot more inclusive. but it's hardly worth the hassle. trying to change the wording would be much like trying to change the nz flag - many people want a change but no one can agree on what the changed version should look like.

nice to see that keith ng has joined the herald (hat tip: no right turn) and is talking sense - as he always does, of course (see his blog). that crime is actually going down is borne out by research done at the university of auckland. there was also this in the house today from hon annette king:

Violent crime in New Zealand, as in other countries, has been increasing year on year for a number of years. Since 1999-2000 the increase in recorded violent offences per head of population has been around 2.7 percent on average each year. However, the rate of the most violent offence of murder has remained relatively constant, although I do note that in 2006 there were 49 murders, and this compares very favourably with 1997 when there were 66 murders. A large driver of recorded violence has been the increased recording of domestic violent offences. For example, between 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 domestic violent offences increased by 11.2 percent while non-domestic violent offences increased by 0.6 percent.

with the television campaign against domestic violence and the heightened awareness caused by the repeal of s 59, it's highly likely there will be an increase in reported crime in this area. that's the whole point of the campaign after all - to get people to report violent crime. but i'm sure we'll have to hear about another "crime wave" when the statistics come in.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

legal aid

legal aid is under the spotlight again - well not a very big spotlight at present, but the attention comes and goes. the usual complaints are around the amount of money going to particular lawyers or spent on particular cases. the impression given is of fat cats sucking up taxpayer money. the problem is exacerbated by the fact that most people using legal aid are the poor, who often aren't attractive or well-groomed and are very often brown-skinned. they are people who have often committed ugly crimes related to drugs, murder and/or child abuse. our good hard-working nz middle classes feel outrage that taxpayers dollars are being spent on these losers.

and it's worse if the money is spent on poor migrants, who many think should have no rights to any kind of legal representation at all in this country. in fact, in 1999, migrants lost all rights to legal aid of any kind, except for refugee claims. compare this to the aussies (yes, them with facilities in niue and with the barbed-wire detention centres) offer such services to what they call "vulnerable" migrants. apparently both UK & US do better than us in this regard.

all indications are that the rate paid for legal aid are not excessive, given that they haven't increased since 1996. there are individual cases that have ended up costing millions, such as the zaoui case and the bains case. and it is around these that the protesters make much noise - more around the zaoui case than around the bain case though, because bain does scrubb up to be a nice white boy who grew up in the heartland. the media treated bain like a hero last year, and if he is proven not guilty at his next trial, then i guess he will have deserved it.

with the election coming up, i'm sure the "law and order" brigade will come out making a lot of noise about legal aid and the supposed gravy train. it would be nice if they would face the reality that justice has a cost and it's a cost worth paying. the alternative is particularly ugly, and these very same people tend to be very critical of the tyrannical regimes that they apprarently want to emulate by withholding legal aid from some.

the costs of administering the legal aid system have increased due to a significant change in approach to legal aid, and a change in the threshholds. with the threshholds almost doubling, there will be a large increase in the number of cases, meaning the need for many more trained staff (including retraining of existing staff), for office space and so on. again, it all costs money, but it's money well spent if it means that we all actually are treated equally before the law.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

tears for gaza

i belong to some email groups that support the palestinian people. they include the christian peacemakers team (CPT) based in hebron, the international women's peace movement, one called boycott israeli goods, and the palestinian centre for human rights. let me state clearly and openly that i do not belong to any group that denigrates the jewish religion or the jewish people. these groups do, however, criticise the policies and the actions of the israeli government.

in the last couple of years i have hardly opened and read the emails i receive from the various groups. i store them in a folder unopened - they are there for reference and as a reminder. i don't open them because most days i just don't feel up to reading them. the news is mostly depressing and disheartening.

i've tried to be as active as possible in promoting palestinian rights. a couple of years ago i wrote this piece for the AEN journal (see here for the corresponding piece by dave moskovitz). i've written many letters to the editor, have been to peace rallies, and try to raise the issues when i have speaking engagements. but it all seems hopeless.

hearing the daily news out of the hell-hole that is gaza, one wonders if there will ever be peace in that troubled land. there certainly does not seem to be the international will for it. and in the meantime, this is the kind of thing that is happening now (if that doesn't work, try this). the pictures are disturbing, not just for the actual violence they show, but also the response. the protests of children daubed in red paint, and with headbands speak volumes of the anger and hatred that results from these kinds of attack. a point that was poignantly made at the end of this interview on radio nz this morning.

here is part of a report from CPT:

Most people in Hebron have TVs. The last few days the images on the screen have been unbearable. At one home I saw a mother try to distract her eight-year old son but she was too late. He had already seen the carnage of the boys playing soccer, stopped cold by an Israeli air strike. Mothers watching the screen sobbed uncontrollably as they saw Israeli bombs slaughtering babies, one only two days old. Gaza is in every home in the West Bank, on the faces of people in the market, and in the children throwing stones at the soldiers.

and finally, here is a blog report from mohammed omar, a student & journalist writing of his experiences from rafah (also includes photographs).

i know that what i am presenting here is "one side of the story". but it's a side that is not very well told in our media. these are pictures that are not often seen and voices that don't get much airplay here. it's a reality that we need to fully appreciate in order to build the will to act. while the news coverage indicates that the attack against gaza are retaliatory - in other words, one is left with a sense that they are getting what they deserve - it's hard to believe that anyone deserves this.

Monday, 3 March 2008

catching up

it's been a hectic week, and i haven't managed to post as much as i'd like. but there have been plenty of things happening to blog about.

first, i'm appalled at the herald at the moment, which is currently reading pretty much like a national party newsletter. what annoys me most though, is that if any (labour) politician dares to criticise their coverage, it's immediately trumpeted as a sign of failure. so the narrative seems to be "we can say whatever we like, but if you criticise us for it, then you're a loser". it's bizarre.

i've heard phil wallington on radio nz (for whom i generally have a lot of time) criticise the PM for her views on the media. i'm paraphrasing badly, but he interprets her criticisms as some sort of attempt at telling journalists what to do. but if the media can have views on politicians, why can't politicians have views on the media? the media are not above criticism and critique, and if you believe in freedom of speech, then any person should be able to give their opinions without being lambasted for it. or being labelled a loser.

in other news, nice to see ross robertson is putting in a bill outlining a code of ethics for MPs. about time. some of the behaviour in the house is pretty sad, and it would be good to have some standards codified.

had to laugh when i heard michelle boag on the panel a few weeks ago, complaining about mr peters showing that photo of mr key and mr iti in parliament. how terrible, she complained, and how could journalists report it in the way they did (national party members are apparently allowed to criticise the media without it being a sign of weakness!).

it was such a hypocritical performance. she seems to have entirely forgotten about one judith collins bringing a tennis ball into the house, and brandishing it around, while labelling the hon david benson-pope a child molestor under parliamentary privilege. that little incident seemed to have escaped her mind totally, as did the many times helen clark has been forced to listen to taunts about her not having had children, her marriage being a sham, and some pretty nasty homosexual innuendos. one of the most petty comments i heard was on a thursday afternoon, when one of the female MPs from national (can't remember who) was tauting a labour member on the basis of her name. it was pathetically childish (as were the accompanying giggles from that side of the house), the sort of behaviour you expect from five & six year olds in the playground.

so yes, it would be nice to have a code of ethics and a lifting of standards of behaviour. i note mr robertson's comments that he would have preferred to do it through the standing orders committee, but that committee has been unable to come to a consensus in three attempts. it will be interesting to see how the debate on this goes, and who will be voting against it.

i really love this piece by joan smith - yes, i have to admit, it's in the herald, and it's damn good (seems they are not 100% evil!). anyway, the piece highlights how violence against women could have been prevented by people speaking out when they saw signs of inappropriate behaviour. we are often so afraid to intervene, or are not sure how to do so without making the situation worse. i guess there's the fear that we will have involved "the authorities" when there was nothing much going on, creating much embarassment for the target of our complaints as well as ourselves. there is the knowledge that speaking out will ruin a friendship.

it's the same fear that abounds around violence against children. we fear that good parents who give their child a smack might be unfairly targetted, if that violence is reported. however, i would rather have a few good parents go through something that's uncomfortable, if it helps to save the lives of other children, or at least to save them from harm. it's better to report and have the embarassment, than to not report and have a serious injury and death.

just as important is the link smith highlights between prostitution and sexual violence. i was never a supporter of the legislation decriminalising prostitution. i would have preferred to grant immunity from prosecution for prostitutes who made complaints of violence against themselves, or who presented to the health authorities for any reason. and in order to make the previous law fair, i would have preferred that men who used prostitutes were given the same treatment under law as the crime of solicitation was given.

finally, congratulations to louisa wall, our newest labour MP. i've had the privilege of working with louisa on a couple of things, and know that she will make a great MP. good luck louisa, i'll be looking out for your inaugural speech.