What I want for Christmas…

By   /   December 24, 2017  /   18 Comments

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Now is the time of the year when we send in  requests to that mysterious red-garbed being at the north pole for ‘goodies’ of one sort or another. This is my belated wish-list of gifts. But not gifts for myself. These are gifts for the whole of New Zealand…

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Now is the time of the year when we send in  requests to that mysterious red-garbed being at the north pole for ‘goodies’ of one sort or another.

This is my belated wish-list of gifts. But not gifts for myself. These are gifts for the whole of New Zealand…

Housing for all

As the Coalition’s Associate Finance Minister, David Parker recently stated;

“I have a pretty simple view of this. I don’t think that it should be an international market for houses. I think local homes are to live in.

They shouldn’t be commodities that we trade internationally. I think just about everyone who’s a foreign person buying into New Zealand – they’re a very, very wealthy one-percenter if you like. And I think that’s one of the excesses of global capital when you allow those sorts of interests to influence your local housing market.”

The majority of New Zealanders would agree with him.

Even our former pony-tail-pulling Dear Leader, John Key, was moved to lament seven years ago;

“Now, that’s a challenging issue given the state of the current law and quite clearly it’s evidentially possible and has been achieved that individual farms can be sold. Looking four, five, ten years into the future I’d hate to see New Zealanders as tenants in their own country and that is a risk I think if we sell out our entire productive base, so that’s something the Government will have to consider.”

Granted that he was referring to selling farms to foreign investors, but the same holds equally true for residential property. We literally could become “tenants in our own country” if housing is allowed to be a commodity traded by investor-speculators. Especially without hindrances such as Stamp Duty or Capital Gains Tax. In effect, our housing becomes the plaything of the wealthy, with our children becoming increasingly locked out of ever owning their own home.

Even domestic investor-speculators are having a deleterious effect on home ownership. As recently as March this year (2017) the Property Investors Club revealed that “Auckland investors account for a 43% share of all sales [and] first home buyers have dropped back to a low of 19%“.

When I open up the Christmas gift labelled “Housing”, I find;

  • A capital gains tax, excluding the family home, set at the corporate tax rate of 28%. Rentals are a business; we should tax them as such.
  • An increase of State Housing of at least ten thousand units.
  • Labour’s “Kiwibuild” policy taking off  like a rocket and providing affordable homes for all first-home buyers.
  • Entrenching Housing NZ  in legislation as a public service rather than an SOE; banning dividends or any other transfers from HNZ to central government; reinvest any gst paid by HNZ back into HNZ; banning sales of existing housing; guaranteeing tenancy for all families where children and/or young adults under 21 reside in the home.

Free education for all

One of the greatest scams sold to New Zealanders is that education is a “private benefit” and therefore should be paid for (at least in part) by young people.

This was never the case for Tories such as John Key, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Bill English, et al. Their university tuition was mostly free, courtesy of the State.

An educated population presented solely as a “private benefit” ignores the counter-factual; an un-educated population would be severely handicapped economically, socially, technologically and marked with deprivation on every level.

As a mind-experiment, imagine if every doctor, nurse,  and dentist remained in New Zealand after graduation, and in doing so, their debt was wiped. Who would benefit? Answer:

(a) doctors, nurses, and dentists,who would have no massive debts hanging over them

(b) the public, who would  enjoy their services

(c) central government, which would receive  doctors, nurses, and dentists’ taxation.

Now imagine if those same doctors, nurses, and dentists, all emigrated. Imagine if we were left with not one doctor, nurse,  and dentist in the country. Who would benefit? Who would lose out? Answer:

(a)  Losing out: the public, which would be deprived of their services

(b)  Losing out: central government, deprived of their taxation

(c)  Losing out: the entire country, as the economy, life-expectancies, child mortality, etc, all took a giant leap backwards

(d) Doctors, nurses, and dentists, who would still have massive debts hanging over them.

It’s abundantly clear that an educated population is not primarily a private benefit. It is a collective benefit that allows an entire society and nation to progress.

We used to have (near-)free tertiary education for those who wanted it – with a student allowance thrown in.

Then we had Rogernomics; seven tax cuts; and ended up with over $15 billion in student debt. High student debt has forced many graduates to go overseas. The previous National regime even implemented a policy arresting so-called “loan defaulters” at the border;

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This is the craziness  we have arrived at: making criminals of young people for not paying for a service that John Key, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Bill English, et al, enjoyed for free.

And like a frog in a steadily heating pan of water, this craziness has grown incrementally until New Zealanders have have accepted this state of craziness as “the norm”.

It is not normal. It is as far removed from normal as one can get without permanent residency in the local psych unit.

I open the second Christmas gift. This one is labelled “Education”. In it, I find;

  • Fully funded Early Childhood Education; Primary Schools, and Secondary Schools. All school “donations” are dropped.
  • Increases to Vote Education funding is tagged to inflation/cost-of-living increases.
  • The mandate for  salary increases for teachers is handed to the Remuneration Authority, and is automatically double that of MP salary increases.
  • All university and polytech education is free-to-user.
  • All current student debt is wiped.
  • All criminal convictions for loan defaulters are wiped and their legal fees reimbursed.
  • All student debt amounts paid by graduates become a tax credit. Eg; a graduate having paid $30,000  in debt (including interest) will have a tax credit of the same amount. (An exception being those graduates who voted National and/or ACT. Their debt will be doubled. After all, they support user-pays. Let’s not disappoint them.)

Free breakfasts and lunches in schools

Europe does it. Sweden, Finland, Estonia, UK, Scotland,  and even India does it. They provide varying levels of free meals  for children at school.

The benefits are obvious; healthy meals are provide to all children regardless of social status or class origins. There is no stigmatisation as “coming from a poor family” when everyone is provided with the same service.

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) wrote in their 2011 report, “Hunger for Learning“;

Yet despite the ubiquity of food insecurity among students at Auckland’s decile 1 and 2 schools, children’s hunger is often portrayed as one of individual moral failure and stigmatised accordingly. (p17)

In all cases breakfasts were provided on a universal basis to all children who wanted one. Principals were very conscious of the stigma attached to targeted provision of meals, even in younger children. For schools working to build trust between themselves and the community principals felt that universal provision sent a message that children and parents would not be judged. (p24)

Anscombe (2009) notes that in the New Zealand context some schools  do not want to be seen as needing to feed children because of the stigma attached to low-decile schools. (p28)

The key argument against free provision is that it takes away parents’ responsibility to provide basics for children. Yet, as this report makes clear,  many families cannot afford to provide adequate nutrition for their children, and also, targeting risks stigmatisation, and it is clear from the interviews conducted for this report that this becomes evident in children well before they leave primary school. Stigmatisation risks missing children that need help (Sheridan, 2001). (p29)

In its estimate of the cost of food in schools in Scotland, the Scottish parliament made a number of observations pertinent to New Zealand. Among them were that a deregulated system led to poorer quality food, something the Scottish legislation sought to address; a universal system removes the stigma attached to targeted provision, improves take up and is cheaper to administer; universal provision helps build a healthy nation, and this was viewed as contributing to the economic, social and healthy wellbeing of Scotland as a whole; and nutritious school meals were recognised as lowering Scotland’s high rates of coronary heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes, and were seen as being of key importance for development and growth in childhood and adolescence (Sheridan, 2001, pp. 2-3). Other, more direct, savings included teacher time (teachers spend time teaching rather than trying to deal with disruptive behaviour) and savings associated with improved attendance. (p36)

One fact we are all fully cognisant of is that the moralising Right are only too willing and quick to jump on a soapbox and judge poor families for not feeding their children. The constantly parroted rhetoric is “can’t afford to feed them, don’t have them” – a subtle code  advocating class eugenics, and attempting to deflect from the real social problems we face.

Make school meals – like superannuation and hospitals – universally free, and that stigma vanishes because everyone’s children is treated equally.

After all, if it was good enough for former Social Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett,  to refuse to  measure poverty

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…then it should be good enough not to measure which children should or should not qualify for free breakfasts and lunches in our Primary and Secondary schools.

I open my third gift, and it contains;

  • Free healthy, nutritious breakfast and lunch for every child in New Zealand.

Orphan medicines for all who need them

In the last few years I have reported on a small number of New Zealanders who have been denied life-saving medication because PHARMAC has insifficient funding to pay for these expensive drugs. Medication for diseases such as Acid Maltase deficiency, or Pompe Disease, are not funded and sufferers either have to pay huge sums – or slowly perish.

NZORD, the New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders, has repeatedly called for PHARMAC to fully-funded orphan drugs for rare conditions.

In August 2013, this blogger reported;

At a seminar in Wellington, Labour’s Health spokesperson, Annette King, announced her Party’s new policy to create a new fund for purchasing so-called “orphan drugs” – medicines – for rare diseases.

Labour’s new policy marks a turning point in the critical problem of “orphan drugs” which are not funded by PHARMAC, but which are a matter of life and death for people suffering rare diseases.

Ms King announced Labour Party policy on the issue of orphan drugs and the problem of lack of funding;

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Annette King orphan drugs NZORD seminar

Health Spokesperson, Annette King, Wellington, 1 August 2013 – NZORD seminar

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“So one of the things that would need to happen soon after an election would be the establishment of on implementation working group, which could be made up of clinicians; of patients; of community representations, and others,  to put in place the details and work on the criteria for access. I do believe that in separating the funding and operation of the orphan drugs policy from PHARMAC. It will let them get on with doing what they do really well, and I think in some ways it will free them to get the best they can for the most of us who don’t need special medicines. But it will mean that for those who have rare disorders, that there will be a fund around that.”

Ms King was advocating a separately-funded body that would over-see orphan drugs for rare diseases.

However, it has become apparent that budgetary constraints and fiscal time-bombs left by the previous, incompetant National government have put Labour’s policy in doubt.

Instead, the new Coalition government is faced with unfunded budget-blow-outs such as new frigates for the NZ Navy;

The cost of upgrading two of the navy’s frigates has blown out again – this time by $148 million. The project – originally estimated to cost $374-million – will now cost $639 million.

This, on top of an eye-watering, jaw-dropping $20 billion “investment plan”  for New Zealand’s military. The Fairfax article appeared to parrot the previous government’s spin with these opening paragraphs;

The Government for the first time has confirmed New Zealand is capable of launching its own cyber attacks as a deterrent to cyber terrorism.

It’s unveiled a $20 billion investment plan in defence force capability, which will see the military establish a new cyber support capability, bolster intelligence units and digitise the army on the battlefield, giving it network enabled navigation and communications systems.

Only further down the story was it revealed that the $20 billion would be spent on new warships, aircraft, and other military paraphernalia.

Meanwhile, health budgets are stretched with PHARMAC unable to afford life-saving medicines.

The next gift to be opened;

  • “orphan drugs” funded for all who desperately need them

There are many other gifts to be opened, but one particular one caught my eye. This one had no cost to it. It was totally, utterly free-of-charge…

Kiwi fairness

Wrapped up in plain brown paper,  and put away in a dusty attic somewhere for the past thirty years, is a little box. It appears unassuming and unremarkable.

Except…

It contains the most precious gift of all; our notion of Kiwi fairness; our identity of caring for others. We had it once, in abundance. We even used to march for it in our streets, for fairness, justice, and peace in far away countries.

In South Africa;

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In South East Asia;

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Even in our own backyard;

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Wouldn’t it be refreshing if those 1,152,075 New Zealanders who voted for National in September this year, thought more of homelessness; child poverty; polluted rivers and lakes; under-funded hospitals, medicines, and mental health services; mounting student debt on our children, etc  – than for their bloated property values?

Wouldn’t it be better for us as a society if our distorted sense of hyper-Individualism – that bratty spoiled ‘child’ of  neo-liberalism and globalisation,  was pared back, and the needs of our communities put first and foremost?

The last gift I open;

  • The Kiwi identity of a fair go for all.

Without it, nothing else can be achieved. Perhaps that one is the most important of all.

A very Merry Christmas, festive season, happy new year, and family time for all,

irrespective of how you may choose to celebrate it.

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References

NBR: Foreign Buyer Ban – it’s the enforcement, stupid

NZ Herald:  PM warns against Kiwis becoming ‘tenants’

Property Investors Club:  First buyers still missing out in Auckland’s most affordable properties

Labour Party:  Our plan to start fixing the housing crisis

NZ Herald:  Student loan debt – 728,000 people owe nearly $15 billion

Fairfax media:  Kiwi lawyer comes home from UK to find $16,000 student loan grown to $85,000

NZ Herald:  Woman arrested at airport over student loan debt

NZ Herald:  Third person arrested at the border over student loan debt, as Govt ramps up crackdown on borrowers

NZ Herald:  Student loan debtor arrested at border, more warrants sought

Radio NZ: Two dozen prosecuted for defaulting on student loans

Child Poverty Action Group: Hunger for Learning

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

National Party:  29 fiscal time-bombs waiting to blow

Radio NZ:  Navy budget blowout – ‘Our sailors aren’t safe’ – Ron Mark (audio)

Fairfax media:  Defence White Paper – Government unveils $20b defence plan for new planes, boats and cyber security

Electoral Commission:  2017 General Election – Official Result

Additional

Bay of Plenty Times:  Inside Story – The student loan effect

Previous related blogposts

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key (12 Nov 2012)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions (28 Nov 2012)

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe? (18 Dec 2012)

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion (9 Jan 2013)

“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key (20 Jan 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part tahi (4 March 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part rua (4 March 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part toru (4 March 2013)

Opposition parties work together on “orphan drugs” (part wha) (10 Aug 2013)

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homelessness homeless family cartoon

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= fs =

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18 Comments

  1. patricia bremner says:

    Thank you Frank, as usual you summed the situation up clearly.
    The best present is caring for each other. May we see the fruits of it.

    • Thanks, Patricia. there was much more I could have added. As I wrote, there are more “gifts” in the bag.

      Another one is to wind back the surveillance powers of the State – notably the GCSB and SIS. As I explained at a Select Committee hearing some years ago, my starting point would be to return to the original status quo of the GCSB’s powers as set out in the original 1977 legislation.

      But maybe the first priorities should be the ones I listed. Everything else will flow from there…

      • Marc says:

        I care to disagree, Frank, when you write:

        “..But maybe the first priorities should be the ones I listed. Everything else will flow from there…”

        When it comes to the Five Eyes, and surveillance and spy legislation, there will be nothing flowing from anything, except action demanded by a strong and vocal public call for changes to reverse some of the draconian measures the Nats and their allies brought in.

        I remember even Labour were supportive of what we have now.

        After the Dotcom debacle, and what Edward Snowden and Assange have revealed, we should seriously consider leaving the Five Eyes arrangement.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

  2. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Too expensive for one person Frank but if we had a whip around we could easily afford it.

    Go well mate.

  3. Otto Mann says:

    Well put, Frank. The shocking thing is that these are all things we are wishing for in 2017, soon to be 2018. Homelessness and poverty should never have become problems needing to be addressed.

    I hope there’s a gift in that remarkable bag marked “Funding for Mental Healthcare”. Mental health services have been badly under-funded the last 9 years and is barely functioning. That was National’s gift to us.

    That would be my gift to NZ: fully funded mental health services.

  4. Johnnybg says:

    More mediocre drivel from someone who obviously believes that human beings are intrinsically decent & the business as usual establishment actually gives a damn. ‘Gimme me some truth’ said John Lennon. I say tear the rotten edifice down & give the weeds a chance to flourish!! Merry (consumers rule) Xmas.

  5. Roy says:

    I read somewhere on the ZNet site (link when I find it again) that in the days of Eisenhower, the US had a top tax rate of 91%.

    91%!!!! And they still had rich and poor and inequality, but a much fairer distribution. How could it have possibly been worse then than now? I would happily give up the chance to become a m/billionaire if it meant basic decency and dignity in life for all.

    • I would happily give up the chance to become a m/billionaire if it meant basic decency and dignity in life for all.

      The ideals of a truly decent Kiwi. Well put, Roy.

      I think you’re right about the US having high tax-rates in the 1950s. And still it was a time of prosperity for them. I can best sum up tax cuts as a race-to-the-bottom for 99% – whilst the 1% do very nicely (for a brief period of time).

  6. mary_a says:

    Here here Frank.

    All the best for the festive season. May 2018 be kind and caring to all Kiwis, with decreasing poverty and homelessness. Let kindness and generosity of the heart be the legacy of 2018.

  7. G.A.P. says:

    Very well put Frank and i would agree with all your sentiments, i do fear though that your last wish may not be quite as prevalent as we would hope after the years of me first and devil take the hindmost. A happy and relaxing festive season to you and yours

  8. WILD KATIPO says:

    Cracker , Frank !

    Great post.

    And all those things we ONCE had regards fairness.

    Until this maggoty mob usurped our way of life.

    New Right Fight – Who are the New Right?
    http://www.newrightfight.co.nz/pageA.html

    The original Grinches.

  9. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Thank you for all the work you have done over the year, Frank.

    Would it be a good idea to recognize that Christmas is actually a completely phony festival imposed on pagans by the Roman Catholic Church, and is actually the northern hemisphere winter solstice.

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to recognize that Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ.

    Wouldn’t it me a good idea to recognize that in modern western societies the way Christmas is celebrated is the very opposite of anything Christ ever suggested!

    • Marc says:

      You are right, but if you look at what humans do, what humans celebrate, very much is phony, and humans just love myths, make belief and fairy-tales, we had nine years of it, under one John Key. “Booming economy”, “brighter future”, “hard working NZers”, “growth” which was largely only a natural disaster following rebuild, a brief ‘white gold rush’ dairy boom and lots of net migration gains.

      Enough people believed it and kept voting for more of the same, even though only by a narrow margin, again and again.

  10. Draco T Bastard says:

    This, on top of an eye-watering, jaw-dropping $20 billion “investment plan” for New Zealand’s military. The Fairfax article appeared to parrot the previous government’s spin with these opening paragraphs

    And that that $20 billion was less than what was needed to even maintain our present capabilities and that even then it hadn’t been budgeted for.

  11. Marc says:

    Most if not all of the above seems fine to me, but let us get real, the future of New Zealand is not so much determined by what our central government in Wellington may decide over the next year or so, it will be decided off-shore.

    Hence I wish for New Zealand, that we finally get a bolder kind of government, that takes a lead internationally, on addressing climate change issues, on addressing nuclear weapons reduction – leading to abolition of all nuclear bombs (following the lead of ICAN), on addressing poverty and social injustice, on addressing the foreseeable resources crisis by making our economy and society truly sustainable, on addressing the threats to the environment overall, e.g. pollution, species extinction, spread of pests and so forth.

    With what I have heard so far, we will have another government that will offer more talk than action.

    If we don’t address those issues globally, forget the above, it may only be a temporary improvement, that will not last.

    As for social and income injustice within New Zealand, the solution is not that difficult, reform the tax system, by for instance bringing in a fair, progressive tax regime for incomes, by considering and introducing a CGT, by also considering different taxation on property (incl. land), by reducing or abolishing GST on essential goods, and by creating a new benefit system, that is easier to administer, and where benefits are paid that people can actually live off.

    A UBI may be worth considering, also in line with creating a matching annual tax credit for all, so that incentives remain for people to work and earn extra.

    Endless solutions are there, but the start will have to be made, to make New Zealanders aware of future challenges, of need for change and justice, for a need for some to make sacrifices.

    And to get there, we need INFORMED citizens and voters, not commercially brain washed and dumbed down ones, so we need a new media, also publicly funded, that is more independent, and that actually informs in an objective manner about the whole range of challenges we face.

    If this is not done, forget all the above, we will simply carry on as usual and rush towards the abyss, that will destroy us all, at least most of us.

    Despite that gloomy assessment, a merry Xmas, thank goodness, it is nearly over.

    • Afewknowthetruth says:

      Yes.

      A few of the aspects decided overseas:

      Oil prices -and hence a large portion of New Zealand’s energy bill
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      Exchange rates -and hence the cost of imports and the value of exports.

      Interest rates -and hence the cost of mortgage repayments and other loans, and the amount of fiat currency sucked out of NZ by overseas-owned banks.

      The value of exports -especially dairy products, meat and timber- and hence the relative income and overall wealth of the nation.

      Since NZ is a corporation, run by the government for the benefit of the overseas owners, it naturally follows that the best the populace can look forward to is slight tinkering of the business-as-usual settings.

      That means none of the fundamental aspects -which are currently destroying everyone’s future and which were well identified more than 15 years ago- will even be mentioned by the government, let alone actually dealt with.

      Sadly, we can look forward to yet another year of ‘merrily off the cliff’ and into the abyss of energy starvation and environmental collapse accompanied buy financial and societal collapse, with the bulk of the population totally unprepared for what has been on the horizon for a long time because the general populace has been systematically lied to by politicians and the mainstream media for decades.

  12. Andrea says:

    To add to the Housing wish: that there is a right to remain in state housing for as long as the person/family meets the criteria. With particular reference to disabled people and their carers.
    And, for older people who have been long-term tenants – to have access to seniors housing within the same community to keep connection to networks and support and familiar places.

    Student loans – there was never ‘free education’ at tertiary level: the cost of text books and accommodation was always there.
    However, what was also there was part time work and holiday work to offset the cost of texts the price of a weekly wage.
    When the governments ‘went American’ they failed in two areas: first, to give parents/potential students enough time to actually SAVE for tertiary education; and, to keep enough ‘student’ work in a volatile economy so the first lemmings off the cliff had a fair chance of being able to swim before they sank.

    Successive governments have also failed dismally.

    And, isn’t it truly amazing that the same wretched students who whinge and moan about ‘entitled baby boomers, waaaah’ have equally failed to get their similarly entitled ‘votes at 18, not 21’ behinds along to the polling booths and local MPs to pledge to vote for the party that fixes the mess? Don’t you find that ODD? When will they get the connection?

    Health – it could be ultra-useful to disconnect the extravagant demands of WINZ from the overworked GPs. The bits of paper necessary to them and their systems yet of zilch benefit to either GP or client. Time for an austerity diet for WINZ.

    It would also do the health of the country a lot more good if we focused on wellness at least as much as sickness recovery. I know that’s where the medical profession tends to make its income – yet it does very little at all to raise the level of health in the nation.

    Fir for purpose public toilets, safe water, the end of sewage discharge into sea and other waters, air pollution (yes, we have it), health testing in schools to catch sight and hearing, breathing, heart problems early enough. Social issues to reduce bullying and childhood exclusion/isolation.

    And, for me, oh please! no more pictures of that horrid little man Key, followed by Ms Animal Prints Bennett. Should be a part of every diet – enough to put you off your tucker for a day at aleast.

  13. […] blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 December […]