Sunday, October 23, 2011

Achievements of our National Government 2008-2011 pt 1

A while ago me and a few mates were sitting around talking about how to evaluate the performance of a government. What criteria could we use to measure the success, competency, and - ultimately - whether it'd be worthwile to re-elect it.

We noted that the simplest - totally partisan - way to look at the issue would be to go on a government's self-reported achievements, and the self-described competency of its ministe
rs and MPs.

This would be manifestly ridiculous.

According to this view, we are gently watched over by a competent managerial team led by a former finance sector wizard and a present-day economic savant who have responded to every challenge in a way we're all "comfortable" with, and created 170,000 jobs a year into the bargain.

A slightly more externally objective view - is that of its constituency considering voting for them (at this stage apparently almost half the nation) - who would perhaps consider such things as campaign promises delivered upon, crises handled competently (or at least, responded to adequately), the improvement of its own material circumstances, or the fulfilment & enactment of its 'narrative' for New Zealand. Do we feel safer today than we did three years ago? Are we finding it easier to get by now than we did three years ago. Have our power bills and our council rates and our weekly groceries come down? Are we earning more? Are we being taxed less?
Are our healthcare and education services better? Are our kids employed? Are they employed in New Zealand? Are we going to retire at 65 and how will we fund that? Are we taking as good a care of our old people as we used to? Are we leaving our children the country in a better condition than we found it?

Then we decided to think about it from the perspective of the country at large, using external, 'bigger picture', and general goals. Things that the OECD measures. Things like economic growth, unemployment, investment funding, wages, improvements in education, child poverty, an HDI.
Have the signs of our economic health and wealth improved over the last three years? How well was the global economic crisis handled? Are we laying the foundations for a prudent and prosperous future? How are we investing in making that happen? Are our people more educated now than they were three years ago? Has child poverty gotten better or worse? Has foreign ownership of our economy lessened? Are the profits and the graduates staying in New Zealand?

Ultimately, we began to think about this from the perspective of people like us. Young adults facing dismal employment prospects, probably with significant debt. We are not Waitakere Man, we're his grandkids. Do we feel as confident of getting a job when we leave school or when we graduate? If we'd been born 10 years earlier and entered the workforce when things were easy, would we have been better off? Are our meager service-industry paychecks enough for us to get by, fund study, or live independently? Are we going to inherit a country better than the way our parents' generation (0r, heaven forbid, our grandparents' generation) found it?

We're also relatively liberal in the old sense of the term. We believe in a private sphere. We believe in the importance of our legal rights - we believe we should enjoy the same rights to jury trial and legal aid that the generation before us did; and we're not amused by the Armed Offender Squad raiding harmless Kauri Snail environmentalists.

Are we as protected now as we were five years ago? When Martyn Bradbury is given a lifetime ban from a state broadcaster for criticising the Prime Minister ... is our press as free as it was less than two generations ago - before we allowed it to be sold offshore.
Is our foreign policy in alignment with the interests and opinion of New Zealanders?
Do we know what we're doing in Afghanistan?
Will I get a lawyer?

And we're Nationalists. We believe that, to (do the trite philosophy thing and) paraphrase Voltaire ... "if the Kiwi Nation doesn't already exist then it's necessary to create it."
Or, to paraphrase John Ralston Saul, "New Zealand is either an id
ea or it does not exist. It is either an intellectual undertaking or it is little more than a small chain of tourist attractions lying in the pacific just offshore from a successful economy."

Now that might sound a bit arcane (and that part of the discussion was toward the more inebriated depths of the evening), but what we mean by this is that we're proud of being Kiwis and having a strong, distinctive shared identity as part of that. With this in mind, we got to asking questions as to whether the Treaty Partnership was working better for all New Zealanders now than it was three years ago. Whether the government was articulating our values. Whether traditional Kiwi beliefs about the "fair go", egalitarianism and equality, and our own gregarious sense of community were being furthered. Whether this was the kind of country we wished to raise our children in and leave to our grandkids.

Are We Better Off?

I think you'll agree that's quite a few questions.

But we feel that to most of them, there's one simple answer.

final thoughts before the RWC final

My heart sings to see our nation all fired up as one for the RWC; but why is patriotism a once-every-four-years experience? Why should we confine our enthusiasm and expenditure, our fire and our fervor to stadia and to 22 men.

Let's enjoy the match, but let's keep up the momentum post-game.
Let's strive together for a better New Zealand both on and off the sports field.

Let's win at being a country.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ben Craven's Karori Candidate Forum Speech

Speech to Karori Candidate Forum 19/10/11

"New Zealand First is the only party to fully embrace the democratic ideal of government by the people. Our philosophy is with the citizens of this country. It is with the community. It is with you.

We have faith in the collective wisdom and instincts of ordinary New Zealanders. I, for one, believe many of our country's problems could be resolved a lot easier if those making decisions actually understood their practical implications on ordinary people.

There is a tendency for our bureaucratic and political elite in Wellington to become insulated by a sort of beltway mentality that detaches them from the rest of the community.

For this reason, NZ First firmly believes in greater use of citizens initiated referenda, for example. While still respecting parliamentary sovereignty, we want to give greater weight to the public voice.

We would amend the relevant legislation so that a majority referendum vote could only be blocked by a three-quarter majority in Parliament.

Under our system, politicians would not have been able to ignore, for example, the 80% of voters who gave a resounding 'NO' to Labour's anti-smacking law. Nor would they have been able to ignore the 81% of people voted to reduce the number of list MPs in 1999.

Personally, I think it is arrogant for Parliamentarians to believe that only they are qualified to legislate public morality, or to decide important constitutional matters. We don't advocate a system like they have in Switzerland; we just believe the popular will cannot, and should not be ignored by those in power.

In light of these blunders, we must ask ourselves: Are our elected representatives actually representing us? Or are they merely pushing their own ideological and sectional agendas?

We also need to foster a greater sense of community cohesion. I think the rise of 'Neo-liberalism', the idea that whatever the market delivers is good for society, has been a corrosive influence on our nation's social fabric.

Yes, okay, personal responsibility is a virtue that must be extolled. But we should never forget our egalitarian past, and we should continue to cling to that good old fashioned Kiwi notion of 'The Fair Go'.

This country was built on the idea of everyone working hard, pulling together and chipping in. But I feel that American consumerism, and the selfish individualism promoted by some are eroding these Kiwi values.

Come 26 November, I implore you all put your community first, and vote for the only party that will restore real power to the people.

On the 26th of November, vote to put New Zealand First."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Investing In NZ's Future - Where We Stand With Students pt 1

Interest on student loans
We strongly supported Labour's bill to remove interest on student loans as a first step toward tackling our escalating student debt crisis.
However, taking interest off the loans was only a partial solution. Our students are still forced to begin their working lives saddled with crippling debt, and our best and brightest are still driven offshore in order to pay it back. New Zealand First will fight to keep your student loans interest free. Better still, we will strive to reduce the amount you have to borrow to live and to pay your fees with our universal student allowance policy and movement toward a zero fees model for tertiary education.
In the mean time, our dollar-for-dollar student loan repayment scheme will make it easier for you to pay off your debt faster.

Student loan entitlement
Access to tertiary education is a fundamental birthright for all Kiwis - whether you've just finished high school or you're a mature student. We noted Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce's moves to restrict student loan entitlement with concern as surely, in the midst of a recession, the most logical thing for many to do is retrain and upskill in the hopes of finding future employment. New Zealand First will make it easier for Kiwis to access tertiary education by lowering your fees and preserving your ability to get a student loan.

Student allowances
New Zealand First has vigorously campaigned for a Universal Student Allowance since our founding in 1993. Students are one of the few groups in our society forced to borrow to live, as well as being some of the most economically vulnerable - especially during a recession. It is unreasonable to expect full-time students to have to seek full-time employment to survive, particularly when many of the job vacancies you would otherwise be filling simply no longer exist. It is also fundamentally unfair to decide whether to hand out assistance to struggling students on the basis of how much your parents make. Not only does this make it far harder to allocate allowances on the basis of need, the current system is open to abuse by students from wealthier backgrounds whose parents have mastered the art of income trusts.
Kiwi students used to enjoy a generous universal student allowance back in the "good old days". New Zealand First will give students a fair go by restoring this entitlement.

Tertiary fees
Kiwi students pay some of the highest fees in the developed world. This is partially due to persistent under-investment in tertiary education by successive governments; and partially because universities have been allowed far too much freedom to make up the short-fall by gouging you, the students, their customers.
In the long term, New Zealand First wants a Zero Fees model for tertiary education - as we used to enjoy up until Tertiary Education Minister Phil Goff abolished it in 1989, and as many successful economies such as those in Scandinavia have today. However, we are also realists who recognise that such a change would be difficult to implement overnight. New Zealand First will re-impose a cap on tertiary fees as a first step and then progressively reduce your fees over a number of years. We will also ensure that this does not harm the quality of your education by once again properly investing in your education and our future from the public purse.

VSM / student control of student services & support
The ACT Party's "Freedom of Association" bill was an ideological solution looking for a problem. Rather than seeking to improve accountability, transparency, and value for money in our student associations, this government has instead decided to indulge in an old far-right game called union-busting. We note with considerable bemusement that implementing this law will neither decrease the fees you pay nor increase your control over how the money is spent. Instead of paying a levy to a democratic student association accountable to you, you'll pay higher fees to your education provider. Prior to the law's passage, New Zealand First would have instead advocated a strengthened opt-out clause. Now that it's passed, we fully expect to see the quality and availability of your services to be reduced. We are further concerned that universities will simply be able to ignore your views on the issue in the absence of effective student associations to represent and advocate on your behalf.

Student representation in institutions’ decision making processes
New Zealand First is deeply concerned about the decline of our student associations and their ability to represent your views. Since the passage of ACT's VSM legislation, the ability for students to make their voices heard has become more crucial than ever so as to ensure that the service you're paying top dollar for is acceptable to you - the customer - and meets your needs. We do not believe it is possible to have a viable university or student culture without an independent student voice. New Zealand First would therefore ensure that - in the absence of fully independent student associations - your university listens to you.