Gordon Campbell on National passing bad policies under urgency

6f4ed14ca2b967b7c90cIf National really had faith in its welfare policies, it wouldn’t be ramming them through Parliament under urgency – a step that means the policies can’t be exposed to select committee debate, public submissions, expert commentary, media scrutiny and all the normal democratic processes that this coalition appears to hold in contempt.

For example: Under urgency, the government has decided to index benefit increases in future to inflation, rather than to wages. It speaks volumes that the increases to National Superannuation will continue to be indexed to wages.

This change to benefit increases will negatively affect thousands of beneficiary and low income households already struggling to get by. It also speaks volumes that the government plans to save $670 million over the next four years from this indexation change. Those on benefits are predicted to be worse off by up to $50 a week by 2028. Obviously, that’s a backwards step in rescuing children from poverty.

The Children’s Commission pushed for years to have general benefits indexed to wage growth – which is how pensions have been calculated for decades.When this change happened in 2020, then children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft called it “the single biggest step to stop children remaining in poverty”.

Moreover, as Save The Children’s advocacy director Jacqui Southey has argued:

The reduction of $669.5 million comes off the bottom line of money committed to support people in need…. analysis by the Ministry of Social Development revealed women, Māori, Pasifika, and disabled people were expected to be disproportionately impacted by the policy change…

But here’s the thing. On this issue, the government reportedly allowed only 40 minutes of debate in Parliament. There was almost none of the usual parliamentary to and fro, and no select committee scrutiny. Social Development Minister Louise Upston has one standard response whenever she is challenged over the hardship her welfare policies will inflict. She says that her goal is to get people off benefits and into work, because hey, that’s better for them and for society.

Great. But are the jobs out there – and isn’t the welfare safety net supposed to be sufficient to meet the essentials of life, until they are? Before Upston and her colleagues start tightening the screws on beneficiaries to force them into work, there have to be jobs with adequate pay and conditions for job seekers to chase.

Instead, Upston is choosing to ignore the fact that Treasury, the Reserve Bank and bank economists are all predicting tough economic conditions in 2024, and a significant rise in unemployment. That’s even before thousands of people get kicked out of public service jobs and onto the welfare rolls.

Basically, Upston is applying ever increasing pressure on beneficiaries to chase after job openings that are vanishing before their eyes.

Schoolkids at work

That wasn’t the only bad news this week for households on low incomes. The government bangs on about a school truancy problem that -worldwide- has never seen attendance rates fully recover from the effects of Covid. Yet the government seems to have little interest in the thousands of teenagers who are having to jeopardise their studies by taking on part-time jobs to help their hard-working parents put food on the table, and pay the landlord.

As the Child Poverty Action Group says on the basis of the research they have carried out:

As many as 15,000 teenagers are taking on paid work [ with some working 20-30 hours a week] to help pay for family basics, and government agencies urgently need to find out how many are dropping out of school to do so, the Child Poverty Action Group says.

The full CPAG report can be found here. Overall this situation reflects the low wage economy that market economics has inflicted on this country. To the poiint where some parents working 12 hours a day still cannot afford the essentials for their kids.

Also, and perniciously, the earnings of these teenagers can push the cumulative household income over a threshold that will then disqualify their families for Working For Families support. As CPAG convenor Alan Johnson told RNZ, no teenager should have to choose between their education and putting food on the table for their family:

Raising incomes is the single most effective way to lift people out of poverty, but until such time as these families have enough money to provide for their children, teenagers in these households should not be robbed of the opportunity to become higher paid skilled workers,” said Mr Johnson.

“When you have children opting out of school early, you’re perpetuating a cycle of poverty because you’re confining them to a life of unskilled, low-paid work which has consequences for us all because it robs society of skilled workers and potential productivity..”

Footnote: Over the coming weeks, we need to watch out for which Bills are being passed under urgency, and why. Urgency tends to be an abuse of Parliamentary process on issues of importance, with the government speeding up the system to shut down critical commentary, and limit the public’s ability to scrutinise its actions.

Seymour: The Insider’s Outsider

Since the election, the ACT Party has had to deal with the harm that victory has done to its maverick status. and to the cheeky chappie persona of its leader. ACT is now a major player within the Establishment it has railed against for so long.How to avoid the chronic MMP problem of being tainted by association with the coalition’s big dog?

Answer: The Treaty Principles Bill. This allows David Seymour and his team-mates to still look like outsiders, even after ACT’s Cabinet Ministers have set up shop in the Beehive. Helpfully, the media has portrayed Seymour and Christopher Luxon as being at odds over the Bill, a fiction that helps Seymour’s rebel image no end.

In reality, National and ACt are operating as a tag team on Treaty issues. On the campaign trail, both parties were hostile to any suggestion that Te Tiiti ō Waitangi created a partnership between equals, a need for co-governance, or bi-culturalism in any shape or form. They both reject the idea of our colonial history being one of conquest and subjugation that has had lasting impacts on Māori, and both parties oppose the teaching of that history in schools.There’s no conflict between ACT, National and New Zealand First on any of these matters.

That explains why National has been happy to allow a socially divisive Bill that is proudly in denial of the bi-cultural meaning of this country’s funding document, to enter the House and go through to select committee stage. Meanwhile, that same exposure and opportunity for debate is being denied to a benefit indexation change that will negatively affect tens of thousands of vulnerable people, disproportionately Māori. Far greater exposure is being afforded to a Bill that -according to National – will proceed no further.

In all likelihood, the Treaty Principles Bill will be used as launching pad for a divisive public debate that all of the coalition parties will be happy to promote. Meanwhile, Seymour will be using the Bill to continue to play the maverick, the Joker in the Rich List pack.

Footnote: As mentioned in this column before, National and ACT share a common anti-Māori ancestor in Don Brash, a former leader of both parties. Brash’s Orewa speech has been a template for the centre-right’s race relations policies, and his Hobson’s Pledge mission of mono-culturallism had NZF Cabinet Minister Casey Costello as a founding trustee.

Blue Skies From Now On

Lana Del Rey has always used America’s pop culture iconography in interesting ways. Here’s her pathologically sparkling take on the Gershwin classic “Blue Skies…” (American optimism really has taken a beating over the years.)

Fittingly, this audio has an image of Del Rey in exactly the same kind of red sports car that Dorothy Malone drove in the 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama Written On the Wind.