Campbell on National’s welfare policy, Tauranga and Georgia

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Will John Key’s policy announcement on welfare this afternoon do much to resolve the problems it claims to address ? Hardly. The measures seem entirely punitive if – as mooted – they do entail a part time work requirement of 15 hours a week for solo parents once their youngest child turns six. The policy will also apply the same work test to sickness and invalids beneficiaries, while those on the dole for more than a year will be required to re-apply, and be work-tested once again.

This will do nothing to lift children out of poverty and in fact, could well worsen the financial hardship faced by such families – by imposing a 15 hour work activity requirement that will cost money in transport, and provide little advantage in terms of income gains or genuine work. All it may do is help reduce labour costs at KFC and New World.

Why do it ? It is as if National felt the need to beat up on beneficiaries somehow, and somewhere – and so it picked primarily on solo parents, the group of beneficiaries widely recognized as being in LEAST need of extra motivation to get off the benefit.

Tellingly, National has not gone for a full-blown work for the dole scheme. This is not only because there are so few people on the dole, but because such schemes are administratively top-heavy, and are proven failures, since the make-work activity related to the scheme gets in the way of people having the time and resources to chase down genuine jobs. The proof is in this departmental survey of the Job Plus scheme, which had either no effect on work outcomes, or in fact, made things worse. The conclusion :

This [negative ] finding is consistent with an earlier
outcome evaluation….which also concluded that the programme had no
appreciable positive effect on outcomes. Furthermore, the multivariate
analysis shows that the estimated effect of the programme on outcomes was
significantly negative over the first 12 months, after which there was no significant difference in outcomes between participants and comparison group. .

There is no reason to think the same make-work activity will not have the same negative impact on DPB recipients – who stay on the benefits for as shorter time than other beneficiaries and have little or no problems with motivation. In other words, this move by National against DPB recipients is being driven by ideology, not by common sense or sound research.

In that respect, the sop to abatement levels – National aims to lift the allowable extra income from $80 to $100 before the benefit begins to abate – seems utterly cynical, in that the work requirement will cost families more than they will gain from any lifting of the abatement ceiling.

Petering out in Tauranga

The last ten days have been a bad time for cocky politicians, starting with the three loose-lipped senior National MPs at the infamous cocktail party. Over the weekend there was even more bad news for the brashly overly confident, ranging from Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia to Winston Peters in Tauranga.

The New Zealand First leader not only trails National newcomer Simon Bridges by 20 points in Tauranga. The NZF party vote in Tauranga has also halved from 13.2 % in the 2005 election to a mere six per cent in this poll.

Bad news, but not necessarily calamitous. The NZF list vote is a nationwide phenomenon, with Tauranga providing only 3.72 % of the entire list vote for NZF in the 2005 election – and it cannot be assumed the backlash against Peters in Tauranga will be repeated with equal force everywhere else, especially by election day. In recent months, NZF’s hope for a return to Parliament have rested on getting across the 5 % barrier nationwide, and not in winning Tauranga. The latest poll underlines that Tauranga is a hopeless cause. The party as a whole is not quite in that category, not yet at least.

Russia on the Rise.

The decision by Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvioli to send his troops into South Ossetia last Thursday must be one of the worst strategic blunders in living memory. As the Guardian and others have noted it is tempting – and wrong – to view the sight of Russian tanks and troops pulverizing Georgia through the Cold War lens of Prague in 1968 or the Hungary uprising. In reality, a West that supported the dis-membering of Yugoslavia in the Balkans can hardly condemn the disintegration of Georgia in the Caucasus. Saakashvili merely gave Russia the excuse it needed.

Clearly, the Georgian president thought that his newest best friend George W. Bush and the forces of Nato would not stand idly by while Georgia got crushed. Think again. The US is already over-stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Germany in particular is dependent on Russian energy to heat its homes. Neither were ever likely to go to war against Russia in order to save the Georgians from their own results of their own folly. For Russia, this is a win/ win situation everywhere it looks.

For one thing, the action in Georgia deals Nato a black eye, and rolls back some of the shameful concessions made during and since the Gorbachev/Yeltsin era. After all, while Nato may have pledged at the time not to take any former Warsaw Pact countries under its wing, it then did so – with the Poles and the Czechs both now tacitly assisting with Nato’s virtual military encirclement of the Russians. By dealing a blow to Georgia, Russia not only gets to humble Europe and the US, diplomatically. In short order, it can also unite North and South Ossetia, and make its own call on whether to ‘liberate’ the other Georgian breakaway region of Abhazia. Along the way, it will be sending a cautionary message to the Ukraine about who it should be regarding as its best friend and ally.

As usual, oil and gas reserves are also playing a strategic role in the conflict. By this action, Russia gets a hand on the crucial Ceylan/Baku pipeline formerly designed to exclude it and Iran from Europe’s map of its future energy needs and supplies. Pathetically, Europe’s main response so far to the Georgian crisis has been to advise its citizens to conserve energy.

All up, what is being played out is a demonstration of Russia’s military resurgence backed up by its energy clout – and of Nato’s relative impotence, and Europe’s energy vulnerability. Few will shed any tears over Saakashvili. After all, if he had been successful in his foray into South Ossetia, this would only have validated a micro-empire of the sort that the West had found intolerable in the Balkans.

Looking further afield , Europe will now somehow have to find the means to escape from its newly underlined energy dependence on Russia. Nato too, faces headaches – what can Brussels really do about the convincingly demonstrated limits on its power to protect its would-be friends ? The Russians have less to worry about. Medium term, the only problem facing Russia will be to control the forces for wider fragmentation in the Caucasus. Russia already has a war going on in Chechnya. Its aid to South Ossetia will encourage similar moves for independence in Abkhazia, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Europe will be hoping this keeps Russia busy enough in the meantime, while it rethinks, and regroups.