Friday, May 29, 2015

"Hardship Reduction Package"? Whose Fault Is The Hardship!

Without a doubt my favourite MP from New Zealand First's 2014 intake is Palmerston North-based MP Darroch Ball. (Ron Mark doesn't count, coz he's been around before)

There are many reasons why this is so, ranging from his longstanding positive relationship with NZ First Youth, through to my considerable enthusiasm for a secret project he's working on that I'm not at liberty to write about yet (but watch this space).

But the thing that really tipped me over the edge and which I thought deserved highlighting right here on TDB was Darroch's response to the euphemistically termed "Hardship Reduction Measures" contained within last week's Budget.

When diagnosing the underlying causes for the situation of systemic and entrenched poverty which National claims to be responding to, Darroch's thoughts almost exactly mirrored my own.

"Let’s never forget it was National, and the ‘mother of all budgets’ in 1991 that severely cut welfare, and they have taken the axe to it in many ways since. National has turned a country of reasonable equality into one of appalling inequality."

Or, as I might have less prosaically put it ... looking to National to provide a solution on the issue of child poverty is rather like asking a mosquito about possible cures for Malaria. (I would have said "like asking Tony Blair for a solution to intractable conflict in Iraq" ... but then remembered some geopolitical comedian had, in fact, made Blair something called a "Middle-Eastern Peace Envoy")

Darroch is right when he states that "the Budget payment of an average of two dollars a day does not improve the health and education of a single child."

He's also completely correct to point out that this "tinkering around the edges in a haphazard approach" from National merely means "supported poverty" rather supporting people on a pathway out of the deprivation and desperation of economic want.

But NZ First's social development spokesperson didn't just tell us why these blatantly inadequate measures ought to be opposed in favour of something better.

He ensured that his words were matched with action where it mattered - in the House, with our votes.

Now you might be forgiven for wondering what's so special about that. After all, speaking in opposition to Government policy where it's deficient and voting accordingly is something that every Opposition party does. Indeed, it's our job.

But where other parties were apparently quite content to vote in favour of measures they agreed with New Zealand First in deeming wholly inadequate ... only NZF actually had the guts and the gumption to actually oppose National's bill in both word AND deed, voting against same in the House.

(Between this, and previous incidences of parties such as Labour failing to follow up vocal opposition with actual votes in the House, it's no wonder people are increasingly coming to see New Zealand First the true leaders of the Opposition in Parliament.)

Make no bones about it. While a pittance is better than absolutely nothing, this Budget was not a serious stab at eliminating or even just ameliorating the endemic poverty which exists here in New Zealand.

That would have required actual, tangible efforts at job creation; and a far more realistic increase in the dollar value of benefit payments.

Instead, we got the biggest exercise in cosmetic "concern" for the casualties of caustic Neoliberalism since John Key paid a visit to McGehan Close way back in 2007.

And while National may protest that its "Hardship Reduction Package" is at least an acknowledgement that there is a problem with the way it's been playing at economic management for the past six years ... it is in no way, shape, or form a solution.

Instead, might I be so bold as to suggest that there's only one "Hardship Reduction Package" involving National that's actually worthy of the name.

Voting for a Party which resolutely believes in a "comprehensive plan that ensures our welfare safety net is real."

Can you smell what Darroch is cooking?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"I think, with that, Ron Mark became my favourite Member of Parliament."

See that? Look up. The title to this piece isn't mine. Instead, it's a quote from somebody on my wall. That was their reaction to news that NZ First MP Ron Mark told the Government (sotto voce) to "shut the fuck up" during Question Time.

And from everything I've seen thus far, they are not alone.

From right the way across the political spectrum - and, even more importantly, from beyond the spectrum entirely - Kiwis are lining up to express their amusement and support for Ron Mark's STFU-snafu.

Given the way this Government conducts itself - particularly in the House - it's not hard to see why.

If you're actively engaged in politics, or have a vested interest in this country having a future ... then Ron Mark's exasperated remark is *exactly* what many if not most of us have longed to be able to tell the Government to do for six and a half grueling years.

I'm sure I speak for many TDB readers when I state that being able to do so *in Parliament* and to their faces would be something of an exercise in wish-fulfillment.

But there's something far more important going on here. Something revolutionary.

You see, it isn't just the usual crew of hacktivists, beltway-grognards, and politically enthused party-followers that're queuing up in droves to express enthusiasm and support for his comment or to brand him a "legend". (one of the more printable positive epithets I've seen being applied in his direction on social media since Wednesday)

It's the less-engaged if not outright disengaged folk, too.

And that means something.

For four years now, some of the brightest (or, in the case of Labour, bluntest) political minds in the country have grappled with a simple question: How do we get the million-plus Kiwis who've stopped participating in politics to re-engage. What do we have to do to excite, inspire, and instill in these people a sense that we *can* actually meaningfully represent them.

I believe Ron Mark's cracked it.

One of the reasons so many New Zealanders have switched off establishment politics, is because they're disgusted or disillusioned by the way "business as usual" gets conducted in the House.

And it's not hard to see why.

Efforts by Opposition MPs to hold the Government to account during Question Time are glibly batted away by insouciantly arrogant ministers who give frivolous non-answers. Serious matters are treated by Government MPs as an excuse for supercilious if not outright super-silly-ous banter. Ministers of the Crown hound the leaders of Opposition parties over their fashion choicesThe Speaker plays along.

On the odd occasion Parliamentary proceedings make it into the 6 o'clock news, it's rarely if ever because there's some scintillating rhetoric or declamation of national importance being made (although both Winston Peters and Ron Mark have managed notable exceptions to this recently).

Instead, it's almost invariably because some MP's run their mouth off with a display of spurious invective that'd be on par or beneath the standard of debate exhibited behind the bike sheds in most intermediate schools immediately before the fisticuffs ensue.

Most of the rest of the time, Government MPs only seem to come to the general public's attention for the most unedifying of reasons. We all, for instance, now know who Aaron Gilmore is (or, rather, was). Many of us know who a Prominent New Zealander is. Some of us who've been around for awhile remember that Judith Collins wasn't the first Minister this government's had to let go for using their position to benefit their affiliated private business interests. Even if names like Richard Worth and Pansy Wong are these days mere historical footnotes ... the pattern - and the anti-politician prejudices it engenders in the public - are plain for all to see.

Meanwhile, policies proposed by parties other than the Government have not a hope in Hades of making it into law. If National's not shouting a bill downthey're voting it down. And on incredibly rare occasions when The Nats don't even have the numbers to do that (as with Labour's paid parental leave extension bill) ... they just step in and declare they'll block the legislation by veto regardless. How very democratic.

From the perspective of the layman, the entire Parliamentary process must come across as - in the words of Macbeth - "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

A colossal waste of time, energy, effort, attention spans, and taxpayer funding; whose narcissistic egomanic denizens incontrovertibly seem infinitely more interested in playing silly partisan power-games and stroking their own senses of self-importance rather than actually pulling finger and making the country a genuinely better place.

Into which stepped Ron Mark.

Armed with a precision F-Bomb.

And with it, the power to say what we're pretty much all thinking.

That's why what he said was ground-breaking, and grabbed our attention. Not because there was anything terribly scandalous or especially salacious in what was said. (In fact, I'd be enormously surprised if even the most cantankerously conservative curmudgeon couched amidst our Party ranks felt that the elected official in question's choice of words to be something seriously worth raising official or internal complaint about)

But rather because he had, in four simple words, perfectly captured the way tens of thousands of New Zealanders feel about both our Government - and the way we all too often seem to practice politics in general.

Many of these multitudes don't vote or actively participate in politics precisely because of this perception that the whole thing's childish and pointless. They're that Missing Million we keep talking about, whose non-appearance at each of the last two elections handed National victory on a silver-spooned-mouth platter.

Cutting National's share of the vote down to size in 2017 is going to require our political class and parties to come down off their many and various high horses in order to engage with and understand these ordinary Kiwi (non-) voters.

And why they're more thrilled and supportive of an "anti-politician" expressing his frustration with the Government using the regular Kiwi vernacular, than they are with Labour's continued quixotic drive at being the party of fiscal responsibility.

One of the things I like about Ron Mark is that he does this effortlessly.

The "shut the fuck up" comment was a gaffe. It wasn't planned, and had it not been for the eagle-eyed sign-language interpreter, it would never have come to the attention of the general public.

It was genuine - and people responded to it in no small part because it felt "real". And, just as importantly, anti-political.

It showed the public that there's at least one MP who's *just as fed up* with the endless silly-buggers done in our name and on our dime as they are. An MP they can support - because unlike the others, he's there to get something done. 

If parties are serious about increasing their share of the vote at the next Election, they would do well to learn from Ron Mark.

"Politics-as-usual", with all the petty Parliamentary point-scoring, procedural maneuvering and mock-indignation that entails is not the order of the day. "Speaking Truth to Power", with a veneer of anti-politics, is.

Ordinary people want to see themselves and their views represented in Parliament. Not endless streams of "Beltway bullshit".

By telling the Government to "shut the fuck up", Ron Mark has done exactly that.

Good on him.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#Waitergate Part Two: Tail-Spin

T.D.B. can reveal allegations are swirling that Prime Minister John Key's been at it again - this time, reputedly pulling the hair of a TVNZ employee. It's not entirely clear when the alleged incident occurred, but Beltway-insiders are predicting the Ninth Floor will shortly be bracing for another round of fallout.

A major media outlet is expected to break the story on Sunday. The female victim is understood to be a presenter on morning television. It has been speculated that the matter was 'covered up' by TVNZ bosses.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Green Party Adopts New Zealand First Policy #BlackGreen2017

Over the weekend, our friends in the Green Party announced a pretty cool policy: extending Kiwisaver to cover kids.

Establishing Kiwisaver accounts for newborns, replete with thousand-dollar kick-starters, is an excellent idea; and the near-$13,000 nest-egg a young person might have by age 18 is quite rightly being hailed as a "game-changer".

Good thing, then, that New Zealand First was (as per usual) AHEAD of the game when we proposed exactly the same thing almost a year ago in August of 2014.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery; and while some parties might get a little hot under the collar when their good ideas get taken up by others (e.g the present furor from Labour over National's decision to levy a sort of capital gains tax on housing) ... over here in New Zealand First we recognize that the politics game is about changing hearts and minds in order to implement policy.

A fellow Parliamentary party picking up on one of our great ideas is therefore nothing to be annoyed about. It's one more ally in the fight to effect change.

So while I could well understand it if Winston were to be vaguely annoyed that press coverage seems much more positive for the Green Party's announcement as compared to our own policy launch ... I'm also somewhat more prosaic about what this means in practice.

Instead of castigating the Green Party for plagarism of our policy, I'm therefore CONGRATULATING the Greens for seeing sense and being sufficiently impressed with our idea that they've taken it up for themselves.

After all, successful politics is about working together; and co-operation is made that much more fruitful when you're demonstrably singing off the same song-sheet to begin with. It's also quite satisfying when your dance-partner defers to you in following your lead.

As a wise man once said: "Great minds think alike - dirty minds collaborate" ;)


Monday, May 11, 2015

A Most Un-Edificient Spectacle

I must confess that as a man with a megalomaniac streak and a strong Shaivite enthusiasm, I'm a little biased about this. But when I read the story in yesterday's Herald about some guy out in Clevedon taking issue with his neighbour's new lawn ornament because religious intolerance, my blood began to boil.

From where I'm sitting, there's two things that need to be said about this.

First up, erecting a giant 6.4 meter effigy of Shiva in your back-yard (after having attained all the appropriate council permissions and geo-technical inspections) ... is just pretty awesome. Mad props to this guy. Maybe one day I'll have the coin (and, y'know to erect a similarly sized Nataraja.

Second. The neighbour who's objecting coz Catholic. What the hell. He "can't believe they're able to do this" because "it's part of a religion we don
't agree with", and reckons it's equivalent in terms of offensiveness to putting up a prominent swastika (assumedly in the Nazi sense ... rather than, y'know, *actually using said symbol in a culturally appropriate manner coz Hindu*.).
It may have escaped Mr Watt's notice, but we presently live in a secular society that tolerates pretty much all faiths (even ACT-brand cargo-cult Neoliberalism). This, despite the fact that our Head of State is also the head of a rather major church, and occupies a constitutional position forged in many respects by persecuting the hell outta Catholics some several hundred years ago.

Now personally, I ain't hugely bothered by large-scale devotional craftsmanship that's viewable to the general public. I find the really really huge Christian window-art in that knife shop up Mt Eden Rd every Easter and Christmas to be pretty gaudy, and I *still* wonder just how a gigantic cross found itself erected on public land on Mt Roskill ... but in the main, I tolerate publicly visible displays of faith and devotion on private land.

It is, after all, one of the ways I justify erecting an NZ First hoarding at the gate
wink emoticon

But Mr Watts would do well to remember: Once upon a time - not very long ago, in fact - adherents of HIS faith were the persecuted minority within the Anglosphere. Iconoclasm, as a word if not a concept, specifically refers to the act of destroying or defacing CATHOLIC works of devotional art. At least as the term was initially used.

We start declaring works like Mr Chand's Shiva Murti to be objectionable and demanding their removal from where we can see them at our peril.

Because, as a certain band of religious extremists blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas proves (see? I can do the whole overblown-metaphor-to-express-outrage thing too...) ... our society and our culture do not benefit from being small-minded. Nor are we stronger for giving in to the boring and quite literally puritanical prejudices of people incapable of handling diversity - particularly of metaphysics and theology. 

But then, perhaps my own enthusiasm for ecclesiastical effigy is due to the fact I'm presently hard at work fundraising for my *own* large-scale devotional icon. A gigantic
 ‪#‎Muldoon‬ statue that will serve az my very own ‪#‎ThinkBig‬ project. 
And scare the hell outta any Epsom-based ACT voters that happen to wander past.

Paired up with the Nataraja on the other side of the driveway, I think
it'll look a little something like this
Oh, and as for Mr Watts? Well, perhaps he might wish to consider responding in kind with 
something a little more South American...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Winston Flags Referendum For Protest

New Zealand First has long been renowned as the party of direct democracy. As you'll remember from such controversial issues as Asset Sales, NZ's move from the Privy Council to a Supreme Court, and even our bills to legalize Euthanasia ... where there's a danger that the MPs and Parliament of our country will refuse to listen to the will of the people, we're straight in with our demand for a Referendum.

So surely, we'd be unanimous in our enthusiasm for the government's proposed flag-change referendum, right?


We support referendums because they offer a genuine choice to our voters, and a powerful tool with which to communicate to elected leaders what we *actually* want in a situation.

Key's vote on the flag, by contrast, is exactly the opposite of this.

The way it's been set up, we don't get to express a choice about whether or not we actually think we should change the flag.

Instead, we're presented with an array of options and asked to pick the one we like most. Then, that flag is pitted against the one we've got now in another referendum some time later.

That's not choice, and that's not how it should be. Instead, it's a carefully stage-managed attempt at coercing support for a flag-change from the New Zealand public that turns engagement with the whole process into a fait accompli.

In situations such as these, sometimes the only winning move is not to play.

That's why NZ First Leader Winston Peters is urging New Zealanders to send the government a message.

When you go to vote in the first flag referendum, don't tick any of the options on offer.

Instead, simply write "I support the current flag".

The number of defaced ballots received is recorded; and it's pretty much the only way to use your vote in the first referendum to tell the government what you actually think.

In the mean-time, continue to raise hell in public about this issue. The Nats are trying to take away your voice through railroading your vote.

And even though it's a symbolic issue they're doing it over ... that's important enough to mandate civil disobedience on your behalf.

Whatever you might think of the flag or the flag debate - it's our democracy that matters, and what's at stake.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Key: "It could've been a man's hair" - Maybe it already has been!

Key's latest excuse for #Tailgate is that his conduct wasn't sexist because he could have carried out the same long-running campaign of workplace harassment against a male worker just as easily.

Now while it's rather telling that the PM's best stab at an equivocation is to suggest he's got little problem abusing *other* workers rather than just the one ... there was one thing that really struck me about his statement.

When he said it could've been a man's hair, I found myself wondering if maybe this had already happened:

Remember when National's Napier candidate cut off his pony-tail during the last election campaign?

At the time, he claimed this was because it was a "barrier to communication".

One wonders whether he meant a barrier to communication with the electorate, or with his own leader...

Oh and on a more serious note - Key's statement is exactly how the police in other countries justify things like structural racism. "Oh, it *could* have been an unarmed white teenager our officers just blew away..."

Just because it "technically would have been possible" for Key to do the same thing to a male hospitality worker, TOTALLY doesn't mitigate the sexist nature of his offence - or cast aside the overtones we've all attached to it.

I mean, come on. It does occur that Pita Sharples probably never had to put up with this sort of thing!