Thursday, 30 May 2013

same old story

if you're wondering why i haven't managed to write anything here in the last few days, check out my website & you'll see what's been keeping me busy.

today i've been feeling pretty depressed by the whole cartoon episode.  that would be the two cartoons by al nisbett in the malborough express & the christchurch press.  the ones that uphold every stereotype of poor people as could fit into one drawing, and that put the central focus on brown people.

it's the same old story.  a tried and true formula.  casually used by a wide spectrum of media and particularly the advertising industry.  say something outrageous, sit back & desperately hope for the storm of complaints.  if they do arrive, trot out the usual lines about freedom of speech & how xyz group in society just need to get a sense of humour.  throw in a bit of "PC gone mad", & if really pushed, apologise if anyone took offence (the non-apology that puts the blame squarely on every person but you).  bonus points if you can fit in the words "panty-waisted", "thought police", "pinko-facist", or hey, even "namby-pamby".

if you don't get any takers the first time around, say something more outrageous the next time.  and just keep pushing that boundary until finally the complaints flow.  you know you're guaranteed a large segment of the population who will leap in to defend your right to be obnoxious, without the slightest bit of care towards the already marginalised group you have chosen as your target.  you also know that said marginalised group doesn't have the numbers or the power to seriously challenge you in any way.  and caring about people's feelings has already been accepted by our current cultural norms as a terrible thing to do.

it's a safe strategy for anyone in the media, as long as you know where to toe the line.  where paul henry went wrong was with his timing.  had he made his comments regarding ms dikshit in a week when the commonwealth games weren't about to start, & when another nz'er was already under investigation in india, & when the government was concerned about securing a free-trade deal, then he would easily have got away with it, as he had so many times before.  his producers, you will notice, suffered no negative consequences.

but paul holmes, michael laws, hell pizzas, alcohol advertising companies & so many others carry merrily on, using the strategy to their advantage.  they just can't lose.  neither will the malborough express or the christchurch press.  and mr nisbett won't be out of a job any time soon.

and in the meantime, racist & bigotted stereotypes get more deeply embedded and entrenched in our culture.  lack of basic empathy and humanity get tossed down the gurgler.  and society becomes just that little bit more nasty, more fractured.

if there's an answer to any of this, i haven't found it.  all we can do is to keep challenging the stereotypes, and using our own freedom of speech to try to push back against this wall of hate.  fully knowing that we're playing into the hands of the media that choose to put out this kind of thing as we do so.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

a nice day

i was expecting to have a bit of a quieter weekend, but things don't generally turn out as you expect!

one thing i did this morning was to visit a friend, who i wrote about last month.  well, i have to say that she is doing so much better, and it was lovely to see her happy and improving.  she's out of hospital & in a rest home, and has an aim of getting well enough to go back to her own home.

i would hardly have believed it when i saw her a month ago in hospital, but she told me that she was determined not to accept what the doctors said & to fight for her health.  i expected nothing less of her, which is why she is so dear to me.  it really made my day to see her chatting & laughing.

on a related note, i went to see the film "song for marion" on friday night.  it was such a lovely movie, though really quite heavy with emotion. i felt like the film was sort of played out in my life today as i watched this friend & her husband interacting, and the loving warmth they shared.  people can show their love in such intimate & unexpected ways, even when they don't realise they're doing any such thing.

the "song for marion" theme carried on later in the afternoon when i went to see the GLOW Singers perform.  they did a lovely selection of songs, including in maori, chinese & spanish.  it really tied together the two parts of my day nicely.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

this is unhealthy

i'm not particularly impressed with this suggestion by the waikato district health board (wdhb), to reduce the waiting times at the hospital's emergency department:

Visitors to Waikato Hospital's emergency department could soon be handed leaflets after their consultation, telling them exactly why the reason they were there did not rate as an emergency....

An ongoing struggle to improve the times is being further hindered by the high number of people who could easily have avoided going to the ED, the board was told. 

the reason why the wdhb is concerned about emergency times is this:

Under the Government's health targets programme, each of the country's 20 health boards are set a goal of having 95 per cent of admissions being seen within the six-hour time frame. Waikato DHB sits in joint-last place in the rankings on 86.9 per cent. 

the board knows the reasons why it can't meet its target: overloading.  in fact, one of the board members even goes further and gives an accurate assessment of why this is happening:

Board member Ewan Wilson said he suspected many people would be deterred by the fear of exorbitant weekend surcharges at medical centres, so they headed straight to the hospital.

you would think then, that this board member would have something to say about the provision of affordable after-hours health care.  perhaps he would reinforce the notion that people shouldn't be denied medical attention because they can't afford the basic cost of seeing a GP.  he might have called on the government to rethink the way our health system is catering for those people inconsiderate enough to feel unwell and need a doctors outside of normal GP working hours.

but there is none of that.  instead, he thinks the wdhb "just need to get harder".  in other words, they should discourage people from using the hospital's emergency department, without any concern about where they might go.  many of those turned away would just not be able to afford the weekend rates at accident & emergency clinics, even with a community services card. there will be those who don't qualify for a card but are unable to afford the added up charges of a consultation and medicines.

and if these people don't see a doctor within a reasonable timeframe, they could end up back in emergency & might need hospitalisation because their condition has deteriorated.  so really, not much will have changed.

there are also issues here about excessive profits being made by private providers of accident & emergency care.  yes, they are providing a vital service, but i have a reasonable idea of the level of profits that are being made here, and i object to vulnerable people who really have very few options being forced to fork out on high fees just so these centres can make massive profits.  again, it's not like they had a choice in being unwell - if they had any choice in the matter, i'm sure they would have chosen a much more convenient time.

i believe in universal, affordable public health care.  i believe that access to health care is the right of every person in the country.  and while i agree that doctors have the right to earn a decent living, i can't support excessive profits.  especially because that is money that could be put back into the health system to provide better services for people who need it.

we already know that the most impoverished people suffer from the worst health problems.  if anything, the wdhb should be thinking of ways to get these people into the health system at the earliest possible stage of their illness.  i appreciate they are constrained by government targets and government funding, but at the very least, they should be lobbying the government to change the system instead of trying to shame the sick people who turn up on their doorstep.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

hamilton city adopts a living wage policy

i've been making some steady progress on my campaign over the last couple of days.  i have now set up a facebook page for my campaign, and you can find a policy document there which sets out the my position on various issues.  that document was developed by a group of people who have a similar vision for our city.

a couple of weeks ago, i recorded this video giving a bit of background about myself & talking about why i'm standing for council:

it's a bit longer than i intended, but then i always have so much to say - hence the blogging!

as a reminder of why political activity and activism is so important, the hamilton city council has made a decision today to adopt the living wage policy.  it means that 80 council staff (about 10% of the total) will be remunerated adequately for their labour.  this move will make hamilton the first city in nz to adopt the policy, and i'm really glad that our council has pushed ahead with it.

the policy will be phased in over two years.  at this stage it only applies to direct employees, and the next step is to have the policy applied to those employed by contractors hired by council.  this kind of policy really makes a difference to people's lives - not just those 80 who will be affected, but also to the businesses where they will spend their money, thereby circulating more money through the economy.

not only that but it will hopefully have the effect of increasing wages in other sectors of the economy as well.  with private companies like the warehouse adopting the policy for permanent staff, we might yet have work valued in the way that it should be.

i'm heartened by the fact that 8 councillors supported the policy, with only 5 voting against.  that makes it a strong statement by council, and it's a pity that the mayor was so much against it.  i really hope this indicative of the feeling around the country regarding this policy.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

the budget & democracy

so, the budget.  there's a lot to say, but i really like selwyn manning's summary at the daily blog.  and keith ng's work is, as usual, exceptionally good.  it's not a budget that is going to solve any underlying problems in the economy.  it's not a budget that will reduce income inequality, produce more jobs, or relieve poverty.  while it was really good to see funding go towards home insulation & rheumatic fever, these are only dealing with symptoms & not causes.

if you want to really solve those things, make sure people get decent wages, so that they can afford decent housing & they no longer suffer from the diseases related to poverty.  i attended a human rights workshop today, and as part of the workshop, we talked about issues that needed to be resolved in nz society & the rights that were most important to us.

the most important rights to this group were:
 - the right to life & to physical safety
 - freedom from discrimination
 - the right to democratic participation

the next most important was the right to work.  for me, this is a crucial one, because the issues around housing, education, health & social cohesion tend to be resolved when people have a job that pays enough for them to live comfortably.  crime is reduced, many health issues (including mental health) are reduced.

and for me, democratic participation is one of the most crucial ways that citizens of a country can ensure that their right to work is protected.  not only the right to have a job that pays decent wages, but also to working reasonable hours with sufficient breaks, and decent health & safety practices.  the right to democratic participation allows communities the power to determine how their communities develop.

there has been a significant attack on democratic rights over the 5 years.  the most obvious is the use of urgency by parliament or the shortening of submission periods for bills that manage to get to select committee stage.  this means that legislation is constantly being rushed through parliament, without sufficient consultation, so that the effects aren't well understood, and so that people don't have much of a chance to protest or to lobby for changes.

but more than that, there have been significant attacks on the powers of local government, with a restriction on what local bodies can or can't do.  the amalgamations of local government, starting with auckland and intended to roll across the country, means that local communities are losing power.  then there is the fact that environment canterbury hasn't been allowed to have elections since this government came into power, and the rebuild of christchurch has also been suffering because of the removal of democratic processes.

today's budget had yet another attack on democracy.  there is a budget provision which will allow central government to over-ride local government should the latter not free up enough land for housing.  so local communities will no longer be allowed to decide if they want to reduce urban sprawl and manage their housing needs in a way that doesn't require long commutes, expensive roading, and all the other additional costs of maintaining a larger space.

i find this appalling and incredibly depressing that the government can take away our powers of self-determination, the right to be consulted and to make decisions about our local environment.  we deserve much better than this.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

disney: being brave is not enough anymore

i've put my blogging energy towards a post at the hand mirror tonight, about the proposed changes to a disney character that turns a strong, independent young woman into a more sexualised trophy figure.  hope you'll take a few mintues to sign the petition.

Monday, 13 May 2013

hillcrest park guardians

i went to a council hearing today to support the "hillcrest park guardians" group, who are seeking increased council funding for a playground.  on the surface, it seemed to be a pretty small and localised issue, but it ended up being quite interesting.

the guardians are a group that got together initially because of the way the park was being used.  local high school students would often gather there and have fights.  it wasn't particularly welcoming. so they started organising events there, and getting the community more involved with the park.

they've been pretty successful with that - i was there yesterday for the "hillcrest park youth festival", largely organised by young people.  there was music, food, nail polish, and with the beautiful weather, plenty of people having a good time.  another example of young people contributing to their community, and being positive role-models for all of us really.  there are plenty of older people who could learn a thing or 2 from these teenagers.

a good park becomes a place of community - a place where neighbours meet & get to know each other.  a sense of community that seems to be so much lacking these days, with the push for individual responsibility.  not that i'm against the latter, more against the idea that the latter is the only thing that matters, and that we're losing that sense of also being responsible for and caring for each other.

this particular group has also helped to create that sense of community through their activism.  they gathered 500 signatures on a petition, and presented to council today, well backed up with facts and figures.  they didn't just ask for more funding, they showed where that money could come from within existing budgets.  essentially, there's another park very close to this one which has received almost 3 times the funding of hillcrest park, and the guardians are asking that proposed funding for that park be diverted to this one, given that the other park has had extensive development and maintenance in recent years.

what was particularly inspiring to me today was the participation of young  children in the presentation to council.  they looked to be over 5 years old, and the presentation began with a child of around 10 years old giving a speech about what the park meant to him.  the other kids were holding signs with pictures showing the current state of the playground & the park.  i thought it was wonderful for these children to have practical experience of how their democratic system works, and i hope it inspires them in the future.

i was appalled to hear that earlier that day, the property council had submitted that parks should be sold & privatised, and more of the lands used for parks be opened up for housing development.  aside from the health implications for the city, it showed such a callousness towards community and community spaces.

and funnily enough, even though one speaker had clearly and simply explained where the funding would come from, councillor roger hennebry still felt the need to say there wasn't money available for the extension and upgrade of the playground.  he would have been better off addressing the equity issues around one park getting much more funding than the other.

i'll await with interest the outcome on this.  i think the group made some extremely good points and presented their case well.

Friday, 10 May 2013


i've had an interesting experience in writing letters to the editor lately.  i've written before on the frankton markets, and there seems to be a positive resolution to that situation.  forlongs have been in negotiations and it looks like the markets are here to stay.

i attended the emergency council meeting on the issue, and managed to speak to a couple of stall-holders.  they were people who were just trying to make a reasonable living in a difficult economic environment.  so i wasn't too pleased to see a letter from tania hennebry , trustee of WEL energy trust & past council candidate, implying that these were people who were dodging taxes.  it was a particularly negative letter, full of aspersions but with no evidence whatsoever.

it moved me enough to write that she should get to know these people, and that marginalised people are more in need of advocacy than those who have the power and ability to use the legal and institutional processes in their own favour.  having seen previous letters from ms hennebry, i was expecting an angry response.  however, i wasn't expecting that she would use her position as a trustee of WEL energy trust to attack me.

here's what she says, towards the end of a pretty long letter:

Ms Rahman states "she will not be an advocate for these people, but prefers to side with those who don't need her advocacy at all".  This is rather rich, considering she has benefitted from my advocacy in the past when seeking community funding from the WEL Energy Trust.  Her judgement speaks volumes!

wow.  the fact is that i've never personally benefitted as a trustee of any organisation.  i've never taken a cent, not even petrol money.  it's a nasty implication.  but i really had to laugh when she finishes with this gem:

There is an ugliness which rears its head at election time and doesn't belong in the Hamilton I knew and loved.

it's just the sheer shamelessness of having this sentence immediately follow the preceding paragraph i quoted, and following a previous letter where she attacked stall-holders without evidence.  although, from so many years of blogging, i should be used to people who make comments without logic or consistency, but i'm still surprised when i see something as blatant as this.

i'm sure i'll be getting a lot more of this as the months progress.  that's the danger of speaking out, but i really couldn't let ms hennebry's first letter go unchallenged.  i'm certainly not interested in responding in kind.  it's just not who i am.  i think political discourse and debate needs to move well beyond this level, and one can only lead by example  so i've written another letter this evening making clear i've not received any personal benefits from WEL energy trust funding, and then gone on to talk about the issue of development of student accommodation in residential areas.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

RIP dr mike hills

i went to a funeral today.  another labour party stalwart. another man named michael.  it's almost a year since i wrote about michael robyns, a lovely man who gave generously of his time and money.  and today i write about michael donald hills, known to us as mike, or more commonly as mikeandmarylyn because he & his wife were so close & they did so many things together.

and again, as i did with the funeral last year, i came to realise how one-dimensional my knowledge of mike was.  i knew him from the labour party and many a meeting we attended together, many an event we worked on.  i knew him as a friend and a neighbour - mike & marylyn live on the same street and we would sometimes go to meetings together in an effort to carpool.  i knew he was well-regarded in his career as a psychologist working at the university of waikato.  i knew he was a father and grandfather, from the many trips he took to visit his grandchildren or the times when they came to stay.

but these latter things, while i knew of them, were things i didn't witness myself and so they didn't really form part of the of the picture, as it were, of the person i knew.  it was more a theoretical knowledge rather than a practical one.  but today, hearing from his family and friends, and from work colleagues, we got a much fuller picture of how much he meant to so many people.

i didn't know he suffered from epilepsy, although i knew he belonged to an international body that advocates for epilepsy.  i hadn't realised the depth of his involvment both locally and internationally:

Frank Gouveia, Epilepsy New Zealand’s Chief Executive said; “Dr Hills involvement with Epilepsy New Zealand goes back to the 1970’s. Mike was instrumental in shaping New Zealand’s provision of epilepsy information and support services, and in 1979 he undertook a survey on epilepsy in the Waikato area which resulted in the initiation and development of the Field Officer service for Epilepsy New Zealand. It is this unique service that formed the basis of Epilepsy New Zealand’s service delivery to people with epilepsy and the New Zealand community, and one which we are proud to say is still used to this day”.

At the time of his death Mike was a current Board Member of Epilepsy New Zealand; Executive Committee Member of the New Zealand League Against Epilepsy; and Chair of Elections Task Force for the International Bureau for Epilepsy.

you can get more of a sense of what he meant to the IBE by reading the book of condolences on their website. i don't think i can bear to read it today, but i know it will say things i do already know about mike.  that he was someone who was always ready to work for others, he gave generously of his time & was just as happy working in the background with little recognition. he was thoughtful & very intelligent, and so was of as much value in an in-depth policy discussion as he was in organising a garage sale.

today i learnt that mike was not only a member of the council of elders, he was also the chairperson.  those who knew him from that organisation spoke similarly of his generosity and his competence.

so tonight i'm going to mourn the loss of, as someone described him at the service, a good man. rest in peace, mike.

Monday, 6 May 2013


i want you to read this story that appears on the front page of this morning's waikato times.  you don't have to read the whole thing, just the first half is sufficient.  i'm wondering if you notice what i notice.

the story is about some houses being built in a residential area, and the neighbours fearing the houses will be used for student accommodation.  it's a valid concern.  as the story says: "In residential areas, a residential centre or hostel would require resource consent."  of course, one of the main concerns of the neighbours is the potential drop in property values if apartments start springing up in the neighbourhood.  it's fair enough to be worried about issues of congestion.  the excess rubbish, though?  rubbish gets picked up on rubbish collection day & until then will stay inside the property.

notice how i have covered the main issue, and i could have written that whole article, without once having used the word "chinese".  but this article has that word in it twice, once in relation to the developers and the second time in relation to the potential students who might be renting the home.

i fail to understand how ethnicity is at all relevant to this whole issue.  i can't imagine what difference it would make if the students were chinese or any other ethnicity, in terms of the issue of congestion or excess rubbish.  but would the property values go down faster if they were chinese students as opposed to those of european heritage?  is the provision of housing to chinese students a worse crime than letting to other ethnicities.

similarly, i fail to understand why the ethnicity of the developer is any way relevant to the story.  it's yet another example of the threat of yellow peril.  another example of where ethnicity is used, when it definitely wouldn't have been had the developer had european heritage.  it's yet another example of the use of ethnicity to create a narrative, an othering that is completely unnecessary.

the whole issue of student housing is especially relevant to me as i've just been dealing with a similar case last week.  a couple came to visit me last friday with exactly the same situation but in an entirely different neighbourhood.  they live down a shared right of way, and the owner of the neighbouring property is altering the home in  what looks like a similar manner.  while the owners claim that the home will be rented to 2 families at the most, the rental they have advertised in the local school newspaper is way beyond what can be expected from that kind of property.  it only makes sense if the property is rented out to students or single working people.

for the couple that came to see me, the main issues are around traffic.  there isn't enough room on their neighbours property to fit more than 2 cars & the shared driveway with increased traffic puts their very young children at risk.  it would be impossible for cars to get out of the neighbours property without backing onto their own property.  congestion is definitely an issue.

this couple explained all this to me, and i don't know (though i'm sure they do) the ethnicity of the owner, nor was their any talk about the ethnicity of potential tenants.  maybe because they saw my brown face and thought better of it, or more likely because it just. didn't. matter.  the issues are serious enough without having to put in a "scary" ethnicity component to try to make it sound worse.

i'll be keeping an eye on the situation as regards the couple that came to see me, and doing what i can to help them.  i just wish our media could stick to the issues and stop with the unnecessary ethnic othering.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

a sad day

another sad day today as i've just heard of the passing of someone i know from the labour party.  he lived up the road from me, and has been struggling with his health over the last year or so.  but this news has been unexpected.  i also feel for his wife, who must inconsolable this evening.

in light of this news, i hardly feel able to write much today.  i'll just share a couple of bits of news.  first is that the ombudsman has ruled that hamilton city councillors will have to go public with their financial interests, so this information will be published soon.  i see this as a positive development: any conflicts of interest should be out in the open and people should be able to see for themselves any potential bias in councillors' statements & voting patterns.  incidentally, if you haven't caught up with the series over at the standard regarding vested interests of those commenting publicly on the nzpower strategy, please do head on over there to read about it.  this is exactly the kind of information that needs to be publicly highlighted, even before these people open their mouths to speak.

the second bit of news is that the frankton market has been saved, after negotiations with terry forlongs.  i haven't seen the news in the media yet, but the "save frankton markets" facebook page has the latest.  it's good to see a positive outcome, which is no doubt as a result of community action - collective action at that.

and one final thought: it's may day today & it's appalling that the government chose this day to reduce youth wages.  it's an appallingly unfair policy, discriminating on the basis of age rather than any measurement of ability, motivation and productivity.  it's just another way in which our society shows how little we value our younger people.  and no, it won't have any effect on unemployment: every young person who gets hired so that an employer can save on paying wages means another older person out of work and on benefits.  once again, it's a way of privatising the benefits and socialising the costs.