Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Welfare State

Back in November, I wrote a post on that other inconvenient truth, and the state of welfare dependency in New Zealand. In light of John Key's State of the Nation speech, I've cherry-picked the key recommendations for serious welfare reform:

  1. Requirement for all long-term unemployed to report to Work and Income at 9am daily to collect their benefit. Get them into the habit of getting out of bed.
  2. Pay a bonus of $2,000 to all women who have been on the DPB for more than two years, to get their tubes tied.
  3. Pay bonuses of $1000 to all fathers of welfare-dependent children to have vasectomies.
  4. Pay bonuses of $500 to WINZ staff for moving a long-term beneficiary from welfare into work. Bonus payable after six months of continuous employment by the beneficiary.
  5. Every child receiving welfare must have their father named on birth certificates.
  6. No welfare entitlements to the father of children living with mothers on the DPB.
  7. Non-custodial fathers must be in paid employment, and must make minimum contributions of $50 per week.
  8. Fathers not permitted to leave New Zealand while children living with a dependent DPB beneficiary.
  9. Children must attend school. Non-attendance would lead to the benefit being cancelled.
  10. All children must receive medical check-ups at least every six months, to check on the nutritional and general health status of the child.
  11. Random alcohol and drug checks of long-term welfare beneficiaries.
  12. No violent offenders permitted to live in the same home as children of welfare beneficiaries.
  13. A maximum six months of entitlement to the unemployment benefit in any five year period, and a maximum of two years’ entitlement to the DPB for any person in their lifetime.
  14. Frequent, random checks of homes of welfare dependent children to assess housing needs and compliance.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"We are not amused!"

I have a very good relationship with my bank manager. I don’t know how this has come about, since my late-night spend-ups in Auckland bars hardly make me a model of personal fiscal prudence. I’ve even stopped using my bank’s credit and debit cards, and resorted to using cash to pay for my beverage bills. There’s something particularly sobering about having to count out the notes, rather than yelling out my PIN number to the barman when my inebriated eyesight is preventing me from reading the numbers on the EFTPOS keypad.

Despite that, my bank manager and I catch up for lunch every couple of months, whereby he tells me about some of the more dubious financial products on offering, we trade advice on the property market, interest rates, and capital markets generally, and discuss cricket. Somebody in the Bank has made it one of his key performance indicators to keep his customers happy.

In November 2006, Helen Clark was in a spot of bother. So much bother that she called the Government's bank manager.

It happened like this. After weeks of mud-slinging from Labour MPs against National leader Don Brash, in which Labour ministers Trevor Mallard, Pete Hodgson and David Benson-Pope had been spreading rumours of an extra-marital affair among the Press Gallery and in the House, Labour was approaching polling free-fall. Rather than turn on Brash, the public was rightfully blaming Clark for sanctioning bringing MPs private lives into the public debate.

Clark was under intense pressure. Her subsequent allegations—that the National Party was behind rumours surrounding her husband’s sexuality—rumours purportedly spread within law firms, accountancy firms, business groups and golf clubs (!!!), were met with public derision. The PM's public claims that National caucus members were spreading the rumours in the Press Gallery were outright rejected by the very Gallery members who were supposed to have received them.

It all got very heated when a staffer in Helen Clark’s private office received a forwarded email from a friend working at Westpac Bank. The email contained a mock National Party billboard, of the kind the Nats had used during the election campaign. One side of the billboard featured Helen Clark , stating: “My husband thinks I’m sexy!” On the other side was Don Brash, claiming: “Her husband thinks I’m sexy!”.

The staffer printed out the email and showed it to the PM. She went ballistic.

Westpac has a special relationship with the New Zealand Government. Westpac is the Government’s official banker. Every government department, every state owned enterprise, and every government agency banks with Westpac. That represents a very large proportion of the economy.

Ann Sherry chairs the Government’s Growth and Innovation Advisory Board—effectively the PM’s personal ear to the private sector. Helen Clark appointed Sherry to be Chairperson of the Peter Blake Trust. Mark Burton appointed Sherry to the board of the Tourism Research Council. Westpac is the only bank that consistently makes donations to political parties.

None of this is particularly unusual or even slightly surprising. A person of Sherry’s status, with her close relationship to Government, will be appointed to Government boards. It is reasonable to say that nobody outside of Government has as close a relationship to the Prime Minister as Westpac’s CEO.

What was unusual was the Prime Minister’s response to the email forwarded from a Westpac employee to a member of the PM’s private office. Clark didn't get the gag. She called Ann Sherry immediately, and complained. Clark stated that she was deeply offended by it, and she did not think it was appropriate for a person working in the bank to be forwarding such outrageous allegations about her husband.

Sherry responded by saying that she would conduct an investigation, and ensure that the staff member was disciplined.

Westpac’s Chief Information Officer was called in to verify the source of the email, with a clear understanding that the employee would face disciplinary action for forwarding the email on to others.

All Westpac staff received a high-level email repeating email policy to them, while an investigation into staff email use was conducted. It turned into high farce, however, when the CIO reported that not only had he discovered the source of the email that had offended the Prime Minister, but that 181 other employees had received the offending email, and forwarded it on to others both within and outside the organisation. Clearly they saw political humour where the Prime Minister had not. Sherry was asked if she wished to discipline all 182 employees. An embarrassed CEO had to report back to the Prime Minister that no action could be taken without similarly firing a key chunk of Westpac's payroll.

This isn't the first time that the Prime Minister has used her authority, and personal relationships, to bully senior executives into doing as she instructed; but to demand disciplinary action against an employee of a bank that is so entrenched in government business, simply for offending her by passing on an email, is about as outrageous as it gets.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Real New Zealanders

This is the combined backgrounds of Labour's caucus and party list from the last election; their qualifications for office and their careers prior to entering Parliament. It makes very fascinating reading, and gives a direct lie to tenuous claims by some of the filthy pinko bloggers that the Labour Party is a broad mix of people from everyday New Zealand.


Helen Clark. University lecturer. Member of the Association of University Staff.

Michael Cullen. University lecturer. AUS delegate.

Margaret Wilson. University lecturer. Appointed to Law Commisison by Geoffrey Palmer. Labour Party President. Later professor of law at Waikato. Chair of the Association of University Teachers. Secretary of the Legal Employees Union.

Steve Maharey. Sociology lecturer at Massey "University". AUS delegate.

Parekura Horomia. Public servant. PSA delegate.

Phil Goff. University lecturer. Insurance Workers’ Union organizer.

Annette King. Dental nurse and polytech tutor. Nurses organization delegate.

Trevor Mallard. School teacher. PPTA secretary.

Marian Hobbs. School teacher. PPTA delegate. Admits to being a former communist.

Dover Samuels. Maori Vice President of the Labour Party. Far North District Councillor.

Pete Hodgson. Vet. School teacher. PPTA delegate.

Taito Phillip Field. Promoted as New Zealand’s first Pacific Island MP. Spent seventeen years as a trade union official, most latterly in an executive role with the Service Workers’ Union, assisting the welfare of South Auckland’s most vulnerable, low-income residents. Currently under a police investigation following allegations he received personal benefit as an MP in exchange for assisting certain vulnerable, low-income residents.

Ruth Dyson: Close friend of Helen Clark’s. Former Labour Party president. Worked for Labour Minister of Employment. Active in the CTU. Worked for Fran Wilde on the Homosexual Law Reform Bill.

Mita Ririnui. Previously private secretary to the president of the Ratana Church. Worked for Special Education Services. PSA delegate.

Mark Burton. PSA delegate. Worked for the Department of Social Welfare, and the Palmerston North City Council.

Paul Swain. CTU Research Officer, and Federation of Labour official.

Judith Tizard. Auckland councilor. Electorate Secretary to Helen Clark. PSA member. Helen Clark’s closest personal friend. Resides in Wellington at Premier House. Patron of the Auckland Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual communities.

Chris Carter. School teacher. PPTA delegate. Promoted as Labour’s first openly gay cabinet minister. Key member of Labour’s Rainbow faction.

Winnie Laban. PSA member. Public servant, also working in the voluntary sector.

Rick Barker. National Secretary of the Service Workers’ Union.

Mahara Okeroa. Teacher. PPTA delegate. Worked for Ministry of Education and Te Puni Kokiri, and was a PSA delegate.

David Benson-Pope. PPTA chairman for Otago. Dunedin City Councillor. School teacher.

Jill Pettis. Nurse. Delegate for the Nurses Organisation, and for Finsec.

Ashraf Choudhary. University lecturer. Involved in the Federation of Ethnic Councils. Member of Association of University Staff. Promoted as Labour’s first Muslim MP. President of the Federation of Islamic Associations.

Lianne Dalziel. Legal officer and Secretary for Canterbury Hotel Workers’ Union.

Shane Jones: Worked at the Ministry for Environment, then Maori Fisheries Commission. PSA member.

Dianne Yates: Former teacher. Delegate for the PPTA, and the Association of University Staff. Has issued two press releases in the last two years, and made one public speech.

Mark Gosche: CTU executive member, spent 22 years as a paid union official.

Ann Hartley: Former city councilor. PSA member. Has published no speeches in the last eighteen months, and issued no press releases in the last year.

David Cunliffe: PSA member, former public servant working for MFAT.

Martin Gallagher: School teacher, member of PPTA, Hamilton City Councillor for nine years.

Steve Chadwick: Nurses organization delegate, Rotorua district councilor, and administrator in a public hospital.

Darren Hughes: PSA member, member of VUWSA’s executive. Worked as Judy Keall’s executive assistant before entering Parliament.

Georgina Beyer: Promoted as Labour’s first transsexual MP. No known union activities. Carterton Councillor and mayor.

Maryan Street: Promoted as the first out lesbian woman Labour MP. Began career as a schoolteacher, before becoming full-time official for the PPTA. Worked for the CTU, before becoming a labour relations specialist at Auckland University. Subsequently became employee relations manager for district health boards. Labour Party President.

David Parker: Lawyer. Personally very close to several prominent trade unionists. After sacking Electricity Commissioner Roy Hemmingway for following an independent line, Parker appointed former CTU economist and Cullen political adviser Peter Harris to the job.

Russell Fairbrother: Organiser for the Meat Workers’ Union before becoming a lawyer.

Dave Hereora: Organiser, Service and Foodworkers Union

Lynne Pillay: Organiser for EPMU and the Nurses Organisation.

Moana Mackey: Delegate for the EPMU. University researcher.

Sue Moroney: Worked for Northern Hotel Workers’ Union, then secretary of equine workers’ union. Spent eleven years working for the Nurses’ Organisation. Apart from School Certificate, she also has a certificate in “Labour and Trade Union Studies” from the “University” of Waikato.

Darien Fenton: Vice President of the CTU, National Secretary of the Service and Food Workers’ Union, and Vice President of the Labour Party responsible for union affiliates. Has sought to extend the minimum wage to independent contractors since entering Parliament.

Charles Chauvel: Began his career with the Hotel Workers Union. Worked in industrial and employment law, representing primarily unions, throughout his legal career before entering Parliament. Spent fifteen years working on gay/lesbian issues. President of the Aids Foundation.

Lesley Soper: Convener Southland CTY. NZEI Organiser. Appointed deputy chair of Southland DHB by Annette King. Typically, states her qualifications for becoming a Labour MP: “I have done the hard yards, politically and in the union movement.”

Louisa Wall. Of Maori descent. Employed by the Human Rights Commission. Heavily promoted by Labour’s Rainbow Group as an icon. Also a government-appointed board member of SPARC. Member of the PSA.

Su’a William Sio. Samoan chiefly title. Close friend of Taito Phillip Field. Manukau City Councillor. Called on Manukau City to contribute to locked out NDU workers during the Progressive dispute. Formerly a union delegate.

Brendon Burns: Manager, Government Communications Unit, Prime Minister’s Office. Spent the first nine years of his career as a journalist at Radio New Zealand as a parliamentary reporter. PSA member.

Hamish McCracken: FINSEC union organizer. Now a “lecturer” in “politics” at Auckland “University” of Technology.

Denise MacKenzie. Wairarapa school teacher, and organizer for the NZEI union.

Max Purnell. Coromandel farmer. Government appointee to AGMARDT, the Agricultural Marketing Trust. Chairs Labour’s Rural Sector Council.

Wayne Harpur: Invercargill City Councillor. Appointed by Government to Invercargill Airport Ltd. Former trade union organiser.

Leila Boyle. Auckland City Councillor. Tutor at Auckland University. Member of the Association of University Staff. Received significant personal lobbying from Sports Minister Trevor Mallard to cast a pro-waterfront vote last week. Personal Mentor: Judith Tizard.

Dinesh Tailor: Chair of the Auckland Refugee Council, and Federation of Ethnic Communities. Appointed a JP by Phil Goff. Made a QSO in June. Sanctioned with getting out the “ethnic vote”.

Phil Twyford: Electorate secretary to Helen Clark. Previously an organizer with the Hotel Workers Union, and an official at Oxfam. Appointed by Jim Sutton to sit on the ministerial advisory group on trade negotiations, and by Maryan Hobbs to sit on the ministerial advisory group on international development. Served as chair of Labour’s policy council. Creative NZ, via Judith Tizard, appointed Twyford as project director for Book Month.

Jen McCutcheon, PPTA President, having spent seven years as a full-time union organiser. CTU board member. Employed by ERO. Now deputy director of the Correspondence School.

Chris Yoo: President of the New Zealand Korean society. Charged with getting the Korean vote out. Gave a symposium to a large Human Rights Commission gathering on “Human Rights and the Treaty of Waitangi”. Of course.

Michael Wood: Finsec organizer since leaving university. Appointed by Steve Maharey to the council of Manukau Institute of Technology.

Linda Hudson: SWFU member, Whakatane District Councillor.

Stuart Nash: Marketing manager. Appointed to Director of Strategic Developments at A”U”T, with the extraordinary statement by the vice chancellor that “his powerful communication skills, a concern for social justice and desire to lift New Zealand's economic performance have drawn him to the political spheres where he has been a significant member of the Labour Party.”

Tony Milne: Youth Vice President of the Labour Party. Executive assistant to Tim Barnett. Member of the Rainbow group in Labour. PSA member.

David Talbot: Previously staffer to Pete Hodgson and Marian Hobbs. PSA member. Now employed by ESR.

Marilyn Brown: Palmerston North City Councillor. PSA member.

Anjum Rahman. Frequently a keynote speaker at Government-sponsored human rights, social policy, feminist and health gatherings.

Eamon Daly, disability activist. Promoted by Ruth Dyson and others as New Zealand’s first tetraplegic MP, if elected. Human Rights Review Tribunal Member. Biothics Council Member.

Grant Duffy: Former PSA activist, now runs the Department of Labour’s Partnership Resource Centre. The Centre’s role is to promote union bargaining with employers.

Judy Lawley: Full-time Waitakere City Councillor, “because the demands on city councillors are continually increasing with the ever-widening responsibilities”. Lists her key priorities as a city councillor as “Social issues - addressing poverty, good parenting, healthy communities with access to facilities for everyone, alcohol problems, crime, economic development, and education and training.” Doesn’t list roading, sewerage, or city infrastructure once. Former school teacher and PPTA delegate.

Mike Mora. Christchurch City Councillor. Trade unionist.

Erin Ebborn-Gillespie, Christchurch solicitor.

Ai Lian Su. No idea. Never heard of him.

Ghazala Anwar. Pakistani descent. Lecturer in Religious Studies at Canterbury University. Member of Association of University Staff. Specialist in Islamic Studies, and women’s issues in Islam.

Paul Gibson. Disability campaigner. Former president of VUWSA, and the Disabled Persons Assembly.

Kelly-Ann Harvey: Electorate agent to Judith Tizard. Involved in the Landmark Forum. PSA member.

Camille Nakhid. Lecturer in Social Services at A”U”T. Association of University Staff member. Involved with Waitakare City’s Ethnic Community liaison committee. Henderson Community Board member.. University lecturer. Chair of the Association of University Teachers. Secretary of the Legal Employees Union.