Arbeit macht frei

There is something ominously familiar about this statement by Paula Bennett:

Paula Bennett has a message for some on the sickness benefit: working can make you well.

“People with low level depression and low level mental illness are often better off in work and it’s actually a road to recovery for them it actually helps them get better,” she says.

Ah, I’ve got it:

Work will set you free!

Paula is your mistress – your submissiveness is required

Stuff reports:

Child Youth and Family staff at a regional office have been told they are Social Development Minister Paula Bennett’s servants who should not trouble their master with concerns about their work.

In an email dated August 13 … Kaitaia CYF staff were told to show respect to the minister when she visited the next day.

“It is not appropriate for staff to pour their hearts and souls out to the minister,” a manager wrote.

“This is a formal visit and she is not your `friend’. It’s a bit like the relationship between a servant and a master, i.e. the servant knows their place. She should not be presented with the woes of the office, or lack of resources, or anything like that.”

So, CYF staff, you have to learn to know your place. Paula is your mistress, and if you forget that, you will be severely disciplined.

Um, isn’t the public service meant to be apolitical?

Peter Hughes is the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development (which includes CYF). He may want to consider severerly disciplining the “servant” who gave such a politically biased and antidemocratic instruction. It is the democratic right of all New Zealanders to have a free and frank input to Government Ministers, regardless of whether they are public servants.

You can’t have it both ways Bill

The regular Parliamentary Register of Percuniary Interests was published in January of this year.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English’s pecuniary interests were declared in that register as:

Hon Bill ENGLISH (National, Clutha-Southland)
1. Company directorships and controlling interests
Resolution Farms Limited – farming

6. Real property
Family home, Dipton
Farm, Dipton

But earlier this week the first ever MP’s expenses register was published. It revealed, in relation to Bill English and a property in Karori, Wellington, that he was claiming from the Government almost $1000 a week expenses to live in:

A search of the title by the Dominion Post showed the Karori home was bought by Mr English and his wife, Mary, for $800,000 in 2003. However, in March this year the title was transferred to Mrs English alone.

A spokesman for Mr English said the home, now worth an estimated $1.2 million, was always owned by a family trust.

They show he claimed $23,763 for Wellington accommodation costs in the first six months of the year for living in the Karori house.

A spokesman for Mr English told the newspaper the ownership of the house had remained with a family trust.

The transfer of title in March was caused by “changes in the trustee arrangements for personal and family reasons”.

Okay, so a couple of questions:

    Question 1: Why does the home in Karori, which was in the joint title of Bill and Mary English from 2003 until March of this year, not appear in Bill English’s register of pecuniary interests published in January of this year?

    Question 2: Is it lawful, and if so, is it ethical, for a Minister to claim almost $1000 a week to live in a house in Wellington that is owned by his wife, who also works as a medical practitioner in Wellington, together with the younger of his kids, who also live and go to school in Wellington.

English is the MP for Clutha Southland. As the Register of Pecuniary Interests reveals, he owns property there, but I understand it is or was either leased or rented out. So where does he stay when he is in his electorate overnight on constituency matters. In a motel or hotel perhaps, with the costs of that being charged back too.

Do I see another Ministerial resignation coming on?

Pity for me personally if it is English, because I have a bet with someone that Nick Smith will be the next to go (and Paula Bennett must already be on shakey ground too).

The Bully State

The New Zealand Herald reports:

A group representing 30 officers who have worked for a privately run prison made a submission this week to Parliament’s law and order select committee, which is considering legislation to enable private operators to run jails.

After Bart Birch, Uaea Leavasa and Satish Prasad criticised how Auckland Central Remand Prison was run under private contractor GEO between 2000 and 2005, Mr Garrett weighed in.

“You say that you don’t want to go back to working in this environment – to the private [sector]. You’d be aware that given your submission here, you wouldn’t get offered a job anyway, would you?

Now, Parliament has rules about this sort of conduct by Members – notably Standing Orders 400 and 401 relating to Contempt of the House:

401 Examples of Contempt
Without limiting the generality of Standing Order 400, the House may treat as a contempt any of the following:

(t) intimidating, preventing or hindering, a witness from giving evidence, or giving evidence in full, to the House or a committee:

It will be interesting to see if any MP makes a formal complaint about Garrett’s conduct. I hope one does, because this is an extremely bad look by Garrett. Witnesses before Select Committees should feel free to give whatever evidence they choose without the fear of reprisals that Garrett’s comment seemed to imply.

On top of Minister Paula Bennett’s releasing personal information to intimidate two women who had the temerity to publicly criticise welfare benefit policy, it is starting to look very much like the “nanny state” has replaced by the “bully state”.

Sir Robert Muldoon would be proud.

Make it permanent, Phil

Labour leader Phil Goff is reported in the NZ Herald as:

…challenging the Government to seriously consider temporarily paying the full unemployment benefit to workers laid off because of the downturn regardless of the income of their spouses.

He said those losing their jobs were carrying a “disproportionate burden” of the recession and the National Government was not doing enough to help them.

He suggested the requirement that a spouse’s income be means-tested be suspended, if only during the recession.

Why only during the recession, Phil? Despite the Human Rights Act, New Zealand’s welfare system continues to discriminate on the basis of family status. If someone is unemployed and their partner earns over $80 a week, their benefit entitlement is abated by 70 cents for every additional dollar earned. If their partner earns as little as $534 a week (before tax), they are entitled to no benefit at all.

Couples are taxed as individuals, so why don’t they receive benefits, which are really just negative taxation, as individuals?

And, in contrast to unemployment and sickness benefits, weekly compensation under ACC is an individual entitlement, and has no spousal income test.

Isn’t it time we started to bring the welfare system into the 21st century and get rid of the spousal income test there too – not just for the recession, as Phil Goff has suggested, but permanently.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett scoffed at the Goff’s suggestion:

I doubt many Kiwis would consider that a good use of the considerably fewer resources this Government now has. I’d be interested to hear what Mr Goff would cut, or which taxes he would put up, to fund such an initiative.

Well, okay, it would be expensive, but the discriminatory provisions applying to benefits could be progressively phased out over a period of time so the cost doesn’t all hit at one. Fairness and justice don’t always come cheap.

And how to fund it? Well we could start by reversing last year’s income tax cut, so the money goes to those who most need it.

I’ll have a Big McPaula with lies please

The truth is out!

Sue Bradford questioned Minister of Social Development and Employment Paula Bennett in Parliament today.

Last week Paula Bennett revealed a supposed job creation agreement with McDonalds during a select committee meeting at Parliament. The agreement will (according to Bennett):

…provide up to 7000 unemployed for the fast-food chain’s restaurant expansion plans over the next five years…

Her Deputy Chief Executive said:

Under the deal with McDonald’s, Work and Income would help with the recruitment and training of 7000 staff in service roles and “positions which provide a career path”, Work and Income deputy chief executive Patricia Reade said.

“We’re very pleased that we will be able to offer unemployed people over the next five years opportunities in the food and hospitality trade,” she said.

McDonald’s intends to open 30 new restaurants over the next five years.

But today, under questioning from Sue Bradford, Paula Bennett has been caught out telling fibs. As Paula Bennett told Sue Bradford in Parliament:

It is a job subsidy for long-term beneficiaries, and it has been around for years. The job subsidy that goes with the individual is not new. The partnership and the way that we access those employees are different, but the job funding is not different or exceptional.

So there is nothing new about the arrangement with McDonalds. There is no special agreement – it is just what they have inherited from governements past. As Paula now admits, it’s been around for years.

As I suspected, National has no idea about how to create jobs and stimulate the economy in a recession. They won’t buy into the Green New Deal proposals, apart from the home insulation one that Labour had already been dragged screaming and kicking to agree to before the election.

This really is a clueless government as far as dealing with the recession goes. They sit back, hope all will come right in a year or two (in time for the next election) and watch untold thousands of New Zealanders being thrown on the unemployment scrapheap.

And their solution is to trot out an job placement and subsidy initiative that has existed for the last couple of decades in the hope that New Zealanders will see this as something new and McDonalds uptake of it as the solution to our financial and employment crisis.

Anyway, Paula, would you like fries with your financial and employment crisis? Because the economy and the unemployment statistics won’t come right until you actually do something, rather than rely on the somewhat parsimonious initiatives of those who have done something before you.

Paula’s new partner

Oh dear, this is just a really bad look for Social Development and Employment Minister Paula Bennett.

Her vision for addressing New Zealand’s rising unemployment is a partnership that involves Work and Income “recruiting and training” 7000 staff to flip burgers for fast food multinational McDonalds.

Exactly what the “training” Work and Income will be providing is beyond me. I can’t imagine how it would take more than half a day to train someone to work in a fast food restaurant.

McDonalds has a reputation as a poor employer – paying low wages, providing insecure hours, and being vehemently anti-union.

They also have a poor sustainability record, a poor animal welfare record, target their advertising to children, and while their nutritional standards have improved somewhat in recent years, much of their food is still crap.

So Bennett sends 7000 people off to work in dead-end, menial, low-paid jobs at McDonalds, while cutting the access to Training Incentive Allowance that would get many beneficiaries the qualifications to get into well-paid and secure employment.

Go figure!

On Rankin’s watch

How could Social Development Minister Paula Bennett be so stupid as to appoint Christine Rankin as a Families Commissioner? For those who have forgotten, and I can only assume Bennett must have, here’s a brief summary of events under Rankin’s tumultuous reign as Chief Executive of the Department of Work and Income.

October 1998 — Department of Work and Income (WINZ) established and Christine Rankin appointed Chief Executive.

November 1998 — State Services Commission lists concerns about Rankin’s leadership style.

WINZ staff exposed for selling beneficiaries’ private information to debt collectors and “repo men”.

December 1998 to Feb 1999 — State Services Commission conducts a review into security at WINZ.

February 1999 — Rubbish sacks of confidential WINZ documents found dumped on roadside in Waikato. A second security review commenced.

February -Apri1 1999 — WINZ bungles student allowances as students wait for months to be paid.

March 1999 — Rankin told off by State Services Commissioner after “attacking” Green MP Rod Donald through the media.

Education Review Office chief Judith Aitken writes to State Services Commissioner complaining about Rankin’s “inappropriate behaviour”.

April 1999 — Criticisms made of big spending in WINZ on corporate advertisements and uniforms.

July 1999 — News of the WINZ Wairakei training conference breaks – $235,206 spent by WINZ on a training course for 107 staff, including charter flights to get them to and from the conference. Another review of WINZ is started, this time by the Auditor-General.

October 1999 — Auditor-general’s report into the Wairakei affair released. Rankin issued with a “formal warning” by State Services Commissioner.

November 1999 — Performance review states Rankin has an “innovative and unorthodox style” but poses a risk of criticism of the department.

Revelations emerge that Work and Income staff concocted a story to secretly pay more than $100,000 to get rid of a senior executive.

December 1999 — State Services Commissioner asked by the new Labour Government about the possibility of sacking Rankin. He says there are not yet grounds to.

January -February 2000 — Management problems in WINZ with student loans show “no lessons learned” from the allowances bungle.

January 2000 — Revelations that Rankin had sacked an executive over the Wairakei affair and was paying $100,000 plus in a settlement.

May 2000 — The Hunn inquiry is damning of departmental practices at WINZ.

Rankin told she would probably not be reappointed. More legal inquiries over whether she could be sacked.

November 2000 — Rankin formally told her contract would not be renewed.

March 2001 — Rankin writes to Sue Bradford MP threatening legal action without telling Social Services Minister Steve Maharey.

April 2001 — Rankin told about WINZ being merged with the Minister of Social Policy. She writes to Wintringham requesting her performance during 2000-2001 be reviewed. She threatens to sue.

June 2001 — Employment Court hearing in which Rankin alleges unjustified dismissal begins. Rankin loses.

EDIT: I published this before the Herald on Sundayexpose” on Rankin’s private life. I don’t actually support that sort of attack dragging people’s personal lives into their public persona. My criticism of her appointment is based entirely on her past record of extravagance, self-agrandisement, and mismanagement. Her subsequent appearance on Sunday as the “poor maligned star” who read out a prepared statement but refused to answer any questions tends to reinforce my opinion that this leopard cannot change its spots.

I’d be interested to know if it were Sunday or Rankin herself who solicited that “interview”.

Systemic racism allegation needs follow-up

On Parliament’s last sitting day before the Easter recess, Sue Bradford asked oral questions of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Although Bradford made a follow up media release, the questions and responses largely fell below the MSM radar, possibly because the next day was Good Friday.

Essentially, what appears to have happened is that the Ministry of Social Development rounded up a number of Burmese refugees from several different Work and Income offices in the lower part of the North Island, and sent them to a dodgy fruit picking operation in Hawkes Bay where they were mercilessly exploited by an unscrupulous employer.

But Bradford’s final question, and Bennett’s limp repsonse, deserve some follow-up.

Why was it that only Burmese refugees were sent to this particular job? It seems to me there could be three possibilities:

  1. It was pure coincidence.
  2. The employer had asked for Burmese workers on “cultural affinity” grounds, and Work and Income meekly complied.
  3. Work and Income knew the job was dodgy, so deliberately sent workers with poor English and no knowledge of New Zealand employment law to minimise the likelihood of there being complaints.

Given the miniscule proportion of the population who are Burmese refugees, 1) above is about as likely as Taito Phillip Field becoming the next Prime Minister.

Either of 2) or 3) cast Work and Income in a very poor light indeed. Selecting workers for any job on the basis of their ethnicity, whether or not Work and Income knew just how dodgy the job was, is completely unacceptable. Bradford was correct to refer to the incident as indicative of “systemic racism”.

Let’s hope she follows this up when Parliament resumes. This incident warrants a full investigation, not the weasel words it got from Bennett last Thursday.