The relationship between the Green Party and the Mana Party

I hope both the Green and Mana Parties in future focus their attacks on the policies of those Parties (ie National and ACT) which threaten the commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice we hold in common.

The Greens and Mana are very close in their political objectives (based on Green policy and what Hone Harawira has said, because Mana have obviously not yet had time yet to engage in a process to develop detailed policy).

I don’t think Sue Bradford’s comments on Pundit (although I share her analysis on the Green support for Labour’s Emissions Trading Scheme) are helpful towards building the obvious political alliance between the Greens and Mana. Nor were Russel Norman’s comments attempting paint the Mana Party as fighting battles of the past.

The Greens and Mana are natural allies, with little difference in policy. What’s more, the two parties appeal to different demographics. Mana is never going to get significant support in Rongotai, Auckland Central, Dunedin North, or Wellington Central where the Greens do well.

But the Greens are never going to pick up a substantial party vote in Te Tai Tokerau, Mangere, Waiariki, or Manurewa – where Mana may do very well.

We are parties with very similar policies, but can appeal to very different demographics.

The Greens and Mana can complement each other, and work towards implementing the many policy goals we share. With neither Party achieving over 10% in the polls, at least for now, attacking each other is not a strategically sensible option.

Wellington replaces Tolley in shock Cabinet reshuffle

Education Minister Anne Tolley finds herself demoted to the backbenches in a shock Cabinet reshuffle announced by Prime Minister John Key today.

Tolley will be replaced by Merv Wellington, who previously served as Minister of Education in Sir Robert Muldoon’s Cabinet between 1978 and 1984. Wellington, plucked from backbench obscurity by Sir Robert, was a controversial figure in the 1978-84 government, presiding over substantial and wide-ranging cuts in education spending and decreeing that the New Zealand flag was to be flown at all school assemblies. He died in 2003.

“Anne has been a hardworking and competent Minister, said Mr Key, announcing the reshuffle. I am confident she will find something to do as a backbencher where her talents will be appreciated.

“However, Merv was a fierce advocate for excellence in education and those views put him ahead of his time. I have always thought he deserved another chance, and given the challenges of implementing National Standards and reshaping the Ministry of Education, I have decided Merv is the man for the job.”

The Prime Minister said he was relaxed about the constitutional precedent of appointing a deceased Member of Parliament to Cabinet. “Our Constitution is always evolving. The previous Government appointed Jeanette Fitzsimons and Sue Bradford as Government spokespeople outside Cabinet even though the Greens were not a part of that Government. I don’t think appointing the late Merv Wellington to Cabinet sets any greater constitutional precedent than that did,” he said.

When asked how she felt about her demotion, Mrs Tolley replied “Currently a large number of assessment tools are used by schools, and no one standard applies across them. That is what national standards are. So the existing assessment tools will remain in place, and the national standards will go right across all those tools, so that it will not matter which school a child goes to, or which assessment tool a particular school uses, because there will be a standard that is national. That is the essence of national standards, so the inter-school moderation is exactly that. Parents will know, whichever school their children attend— Well, it just shows that you do not understand— It just shows that you do not understand what national standards are…”

The late Merv Wellington was unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson said he was delighted with the opportunity to return to Cabinet to complete his unfinished business.

A smack as part of good parental correction

The Otago Daily Times reports:

A daughter described her mother as “a monster” as she told the Dunedin District Court about seeing her mother beating her younger brothers with a belt and screaming abuse at them.

The adult sister said her 9-year-old brother begged her to let him stay with her and her husband, telling her “he promised he would be good and he wished that she [his mother] would die in a car accident”.

The woman was giving evidence yesterday on the second day of the trial of her 41-year-old Invercargill mother, who faces 14 charges of assault against three of her children, aged 3, 9 and 12.

The charges include assaults using a belt, jug cord, wooden spoon, fibreglass tent pole and a jandal as a weapon, and allegedly took place in Gisborne, Napier and Invercargill between April 2006 and March 2008.

The adult sister told the jury and Judge Stephen O’Driscoll she saw her mother “viciously” laying into two of her younger brothers with a belt, for at least 20 seconds, hitting one until he cried before turning on the other.

Thanks to Sue Bradford, this woman isn’t able to use the defence of “reasonable force for the purpose of correction”.

But at least some of her alleged assaults appear to be totally acceptable to Larry Baldock:

I’m not opposed to the wooden spoon or ruler because you can control things with that better than you can with an open hand.

Lefties

Nandor Tanczos has an interesting and challenging blog over at Dread Times, where he assesses the impact that Sue Bradford’s departure will have on the Green Party.  I’m sad to see Sue go – I reckon she’s one of the best MPs we’ve ever had.  And I feel immensely sad and frustrated that we as a party couldn’t find a place for her.  Much as I felt when Nandor left too. In particular I worry that there is no one else in Parliament to speak for the community sector the same way Sue Bradford does. But I disagree with this comment:

Along with new MPs Kennedy Graham and Kevin Hague, David and Gareth signify a change in the Green Party’s political orientation and flavour… With this new influx, the Green Party is likely to become a more emphatically ‘green-wing’ party than has been possible in the past.

I come from that “old left element” of the party, and I’ve always thought the concept of ‘green-wing’ is fundamentally flawed.  While the left-right political spectrum is not the only political divide it is an important one that you cannot pretend doesn’t matter.  The most Green of issues – climate change, water quality, conservation etc – cannot be solved, to my mind without at least some decent left-wing state intervention.  Gareth Hughes might fit the stereotype of young, urban, tree-hugging Green better than Sue Bradford, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him out supporting Unite’s $15 minimum wage campaign and other ‘left wing’ causes – because that stuff is about core Green values. One potential new MP does not make for a change in direction – at least not one that I can discern.  I’m expecting the Greens to remain the only party in Parliament that consistently speaks up on the left-wing issues I care about. Sue Bradford has particular emphases that are different to those that Gareth will have as an MP but the values of the party are not, as far as I can see, going anywhere new.

Yippee!

John Key has announced that National will oppose ACT MP John Boscawen’s Bill to legalise violence aganist children.

So regardless of what Labour will do (and Trevor Mallard seems to be equivocal, although also appears to be firming up Labour to oppose), the votes of the Green, Maori and National parties should see this appalling Bill soundly defeated.

End of story! Larry Baldock, Bob McCroskie and the rest of the spankers will now have to go off and find another way to legitimise the abuse of children.

And big ups to Sue Bradford. A great victory for our kids welfare!

I’m W(r)ong about almost everything

ACC Minister Nick Smith was conveniently absent for Parliament today when questions were raised by Green and Labour MPs about the proposed changed to ACC counselling for sexual abuse victims. So Associate Minister Pansy Wong was left to carry the can.

7. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: How will the proposed changes to the treatment of sensitive claims meet the legal requirements of the ACC scheme to provide “for a fair and sustainable scheme for managing personal injury that has, as its overriding goals, minimising both the overall incidence of injury in the community, and the impact of injury on the community”?

Hon PANSY WONG (Acting Minister for ACC) : ACC’s proposed changes to the treatment guidelines for mental injury resulting from sexual abuse are based on a comprehensive 5-year programme of clinical research commissioned by the corporation. The Massey University school of psychology undertook this research with a team comprising 23 researchers and an advisory committee of 13 people. A multi-method approach was taken, utilising quantitative and qualitative analysis, literature reviews, questionnaires, and focus groups. The research team included specialists in survivor advocacy, psychology, counselling, education, migrant resettlement, indigenous issues, and the mental health of children and older people.

Well, that’s the only bit she got right. Pity, though, that she didn’t actually read the report from the Massey University School of Psychology.

Hon David Parker: Will the Minister release the medical and scientific evidence that the Minister has relied upon to conclude that the current clinical pathway for the treatment of victims of childhood sexual abuse is not satisfactory, and why were the professional bodies of the current treatment providers excluded from meaningful consultation?

Hon PANSY WONG: I am very pleased to table the report by Massey University commissioned by the corporation, Sexual Abuse and Mental Injury: Practice Guidelines for Aotearoa New Zealand. It was somehow totally forgotten and neglected by the previous Labour Government.

The Minister says nothing significant actually. The Massey University report (PDF 1.115 MB))was released in March 2008, and actually suggests increased flexibility because of the different victim responses of child v adult sexual abuse and the different victime responses of single instance of abuse to systematic abuse. It does not recommend restrictive regulation, as the Government is proposing – actually it would imply greater flexibility is required.

Sue Bradford: How does the Minister reconcile the proposal to impose an arbitrary cap on ACC funding for counselling for victims of sexual abuse with the statement by the Prime Minister in a recent speech to the Sensible Sentencing Trust that “where New Zealanders do become victims of crime, National will give them the support and respect they deserve.”?

Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, this is a new guideline. It has been proposed because it is not fair or right for victims to have one-size-fits-all treatment, so this proposed treatment takes into account tailored treatment for survivors whether they are women, men, children, adolescents, Māori, Pasifika, or ethnic.

But the proposed guidelines, unlike the former regime that relied on clinical judgment of the treatment provider, are a one-size fits all treatment regime, with a claimant being required to demonstrate exceptional circumstances – a very high test in law – to get extended counselling beyond the guideline norm.

Lynne Pillay: Can the Minister reassure childhood sexual abuse victims that the proposed ACC cuts will not detrimentally impact their quality of life; if so, how?

Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, all those have been taken into account because this Government is committed to improving the life of survivors and—

Hon Members: Rubbish!

Hon PANSY WONG: This is a very serious issue. The Opposition might feel agitated and not want to know the real reasons, but others might. According to this study, victims’ traumatic ordeals should be seen as a complex life experience and not as a disorder or life sentence. That is why the best-practice treatment is being implemented.

But best-practice treatment is not being implemented. This regime sets a limit of maximum 16 sessions of therapy, with “exceptional circumstaces being required to gain greater entitlement, That is not what the Massey University study recomended, other than for one-off instances of adult rape or sexual asault – see p.80 of report linked to above.

Sue Bradford: Why is the Government requiring victims of sexual abuse to see at least three different health professionals, and does the Minister think it is easy for victims to go over their traumatic experiences, over and over again, with strangers?

Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, the clinical research conducted by Massey University is not asking victims to relive their traumatic ordeals. This is tailor-made clinical treatment that takes into account each survivor’s personal circumstances.

The report isn’t, and the Associate Minister is correct in that regard. But she is obfuscating and lying. The Massey University report doesn’t recommend victims of sexual assault have to relate the experience to three different health professionals before cover and entitlements can begin. It is the proposed Government policy that does that.

UPDATE: There has been a partial backdown.

Dr Kevin Morris, said last night that the proposal would be modified in response to feedback before it comes into force on September 14.

“The provider/assessor split – we won’t be taking that because I don’t think that’s going to work,” he said.

“Individuals having to disclose to a number of different people – that has always been a problem in this area. We have no intention of trying to make it any worse than it is. We are quite keen to improve that.”

He said the agency also had no intention of removing a client’s right to choose their own therapist.

How embarrassing for the Associate Minister who denied only a few hours before that the original proposal would require disclosures to additional health professionals!

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.

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.

Sinking coastal shipping is just plain dumb

Coastal shipping is the most energy efficient means of moving freight. A ship consumes 75 – 80 percent less fuel than a truck per tonne hauled. It’s just got to be the way to go.

The United States finally seems to be seeing this. A Bill before the US Congress, the Marine Highway Bill spearheaded by Stas Margaronis, president of Santa Maria Shipowning & Trading, proposes Congress to allocate $50 million a year for five years to finance federal loan guarantees sufficient to build a fleet of 66 ships to ply the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts.

With 300 53-foot containers each, the coastal ships will remove 20,000 truckloads daily off coastal US highways – yes 20,000 truckloads daily! The removal of the trucks will relieve traffic congestion and reduce maintenance, repair and upgrades needed to accommodate those large trucks.

And the project will create 20,000 jobs. It’s an ideal Green New Deal project to stimulate the economy at the same time as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing dependence on oil.

This sort of project would work well in New Zealand too, as we are an island nation where every city has or is close to a port. It is the kind of proposal we should expect to see in the amended Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding (for some strange reason, coastal shipping is officially categorised as land transport).

Sadly, it seems this is not to be. Sue Bradford took a look at the draft Government Policy Statement this morning, only to discover that funding for domestic sea freight development had been slashed by $27m to just $3m over the next 3 years.

I find the shortsightedness of National’s roads, roads and more roads approach impossible to fathom. It defies all logic, and raises suspicions that they have been bought by the road transport lobby.

Proposed ratios of spending on roads to alternatives to roads under the document blow out to a maximum of $9 : $1!

But it’s not too late to have your say. You have a week. Get the submissions on the stupidity of this draft policy statement rolling in to gps@transport.govt.nz before 5pm on Thursday 2 April.

Boscawen: Bring back the bash

ACT MP John Boscawen has been hunting around for something to do now the Electoral Finance Act has been repealed. What he’s come up with is Private Member’s Bill that proposes to amend section 59 of the Crimes Act.

Boscawen says:

The amendment will change the Act so that: it is no longer a crime for parents or guardians to use reasonable force to correct children; there are clear statutory limits on what constitutes reasonable force…

That sounds suspiciously like the amendment that National MP Chester Borrows attempted to introduce when Sue Bradford’s Bill that resulted in the current section 59 was before Parliament. The Borrows amendment would have defined force as unreasonable if it causes or contributes to harm that is more than transitory and trifling; involved a weapon, tool, or other implement; or is inflicted by a means that is cruel, degrading or terrifying. If none of those criteria were met, and the force was for the purpose of “correction” then it would be lawful.

What Borrows proposed, and Boscowen now appears to be proposing, would be thoroughly bad law. For a start, it attempts to define just how much violence against children is acceptable and conveys the message that it is okay to hit children. It would treat children as second class citizens who do not have the same protection in law against assault as adults do.

It attempts to define the degree of force that is reasonable by the physical outcome of the use of that force. It does not take into account that most parents cannot anticipate whether physical or mental injury is likely to be caused by the punishment they are administering before or at the time they administer it, and whether any injury caused is likely to be more than transitory and trifling. The 2006-07 NZ Health Survey revealed that:

One in 22 parents (4.5%, 3.8–5.2) considered physical punishment to be an effective form of discipline. Less than one in three parents who had used physical punishment in the previous four weeks considered it to be effective (29.8%, 24.9–34.8).

Given that the same survey revealed that 1 in 10 children had been physically disciplined in the four weeks before it was undertaken, thet leaves an awful lot of parents who discipline physically for reasons other than that they think it will be effective. Anger, frustration, loss of control – whatever the reason, these are parents who clearly haven’t thought through the outcome of the punishment before they administer it. It is facile for Borrows and Boscawen to expect that all parents will suddenly acquire that ability. Yet that is what their proposed amendments expect.

Under the Borrows and Boscawen proposals, parents would be able to get away with administering physical punishments several times a day on a daily basis as long as each instance did not cause injuries that were more than “transitory and trifling”. They take no account of the cumulative mental trauma this could cause to the child.

It is disappointing that John Boscawen appears to be trying to revive Chester Borrows’ amendment. There is no evidence to suggest that the current law is resulting in good parents being prosecuted for the occasional light smack, so why change it?