On the missing-in-action Jackson film review, and the new benefit policy

I know Peter Jackson is a busy guy, but where oh where is his review of the New Zealand Film Commission? There was no hard and fast deadline for this document but… just before Christmas, the office of Arts Minister Chris Finlayson was jauntily saying that it expected to receive and read the review over the Christmas break, with a view to releasing it publicly later in January.

The deafening silence since then has fed rumors around Wellington that the review has been delivered, but is being delayed because it contains unwelcome material that the government is trying to find a way to manage. Well, is the review really the sort of bouncing bomb that Jackson will soon be depicting in his production of The Dam Busters? Maybe not. Finlayson’s office is now saying that it hasn’t yet received the review from Jackson, has no idea when it will get it, but is quite happy about that since the government is doing a lot elsewhere on the arts front.

Over to Peter Jackson – and to David Court, the Australian also engaged with the review process. No word from Miramar as to why this particular script is taking such a long time, or whether the recommendations will be released in 3D when they do finally see daylight. Suffice to say that some of the interviews for this review were done August–September 2009, so there is a decay-of-relevance issue looming here. The delay also underlines the risks that the government runs when it engages celebrities to do its business – while this may generate headlines and photo opportunities, it may not be the most efficient way to proceed.


Kudos to Finlayson in his role as Attorney-General though, for his forthright Bill of Rights evaluation of the government welfare bashing policy. As Mai Chen said on RNZ this morning, why exempt a class of beneficiaries who – by definition – are no longer looking after children from work testing, while demanding it of DPB recipients who are still looking after children? Rationality or compassion though, is the last thing on the agenda. The welfare policy is a cynical pandering to the most reactionary parts of the electorate – and to realize that goal, the government is more than willing to stigmatize all beneficiaries. Even though the vast majority are struggling to survive a situation of rising unemployment and a jobless recovery, and an economy that cannot provide jobs for those genuinely seeking work.

For all the talk about responsibility, John Key and Paula Bennett do not seem to accept any responsibility for the failure of their own economic policy to generate sufficient jobs – a failure manifest in the stimulus package supposed to steer New Zealanders through the recession. That package created a grand total of 2,300 jobs – which as, Labour leader Phil Goff pointed out at the time, was less than 3,000 people who queued up in south Auckland recently for the 150 jobs on offer at a local supermarket. In such times, the decision to stigmatise older workers let loose (or young people unable to find jobs) as shirkers sponging off people in work is immoral, and divisive. As mentioned though, this policy is not about leadership – it is about sending signals to the most fearful and resentful parts of the electorate.

Finlayson does deserves credit for not pulling his punches, and for pointing out that the discrimination against DPB recipients in the policy is illegal. It would have been even more admirable if he had spoken up on the day, and let the public know that his negative verdict was imminent. The way the events unfolded it looked as if Finlayson had deferred delivery so as not to embarrass his colleagues, while Key and Bennett were certainly not going to alert the New Zealand public that this new welfare policy was about to be deemed illegal by the country’s top legal advisor.

Either way, it is a trick that will only work once. From now on, the press gallery will be asking for the Attorney-General’s report whenever there is contentious social policy released, and assuming the worst if that evaluation is not released in unison with the policy. The readiness of Key and Bennett to subsequently brush aside the Bill of Rights considerations is the best argument yet for entrenching BORA, so that it can carry similar weight to Treaty provisions. Full legal compliance after all, should not be a nicety reserved just for the Treaty partner.

In human rights terms, the welfare policy does contain some morally repugnant provisions. Children for instance, should never suffer collective punishment from the state, for the sins of their parents. Yet those adults on the dole with children who refuse to comply with work testing will – apparently – have their benefit cut in half. What will then happen to their children? The policy is completely silent on that point. Also, the requirement that sickness beneficiaries must present medical certificates at four, eight, thirteen and 52 weeks to verify their condition will impose considerable extra costs on everyone now on a sickness benefit, mindful that a full examination with blood tests can easily cost nearly $100 a time.

In these and other respects, the welfare policy is a harassment of the vulnerable, to little good purpose. For the sins of a very few – when asked Bennett could cite only one case where someone on the dole was willfully refusing to work – the government seems intent on treating being on a benefit as a lifestyle choice, until proven otherwise. To be sick, to be an invalid, to be out of work in a recession, to be caring after children in the wake of a divorce – plainly you’re guilty, until proven innocent.


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