A better way to inflation adjust benefits

Graeme Edgeler writes:

A little while back on Twitter, I got sucked into a thread on inflation. Someone argued that the general consumer price index was a poor estimate of the effect of inflation on lower income households. Several of us argued back and forth, until someone new chimed in and pointed out that Statistics New Zealand now publishes a range of measures of increase in the cost of living, for different households.

And at least in recent years, the effects of inflation are greater on those who are in the lowest-spending households and households with beneficiaries (their annual inflation was 1.4%, while the annual inflation of the highest-spending households was 0.6%).

The recent numbers, pointed out to me by Keith Ng last week got me thinking about benefit levels. Every year, benefit levels are automatically increased by inflation, but the inflation measure used is overall inflation, not the inflation actually experienced by households with beneficiaries.

We inflation-index benefits because they’re supposed to be set at a minimum level to ensure people can continue living, and if we didn’t increase benefit levels with inflation, they would fall below the level where people could survive.

Whether they are set at the right level is debateable, but thanks to Statistics New Zealand’s new range of inflation indexes, we know that we haven’t quite got the details right. The inflation experiences by households with beneficiaries is slowly undermining the buying power of benefits.

Indexing benefits to overall inflation made sense when we didn’t have research showing the actual inflation rate for beneficiary households. Now that we know what this is, we should clearly update our laws in light of this new information.

I agree with Graeme. He has even helpfully drafted a bill to change the law to allow this. The Government should adopt the bill.

It’s neutral, so that, if in future, beneficiary households experience lower than average inflation, benefits will increase by less than overall inflation, but it provides for benefit rates (and certain asset thresholds) to be adjusted according to the Household Living-costs Price index – beneficiaries, instead of the overall consumer price index.

It will probably cost a bit more on average over time but if the policy intent is that beneficiaries maintain their purchasing power, then we should have a law that best reflects that policy.

Quin on Jackson and Labour

Phil Quin writes:

I didn’t realise, for example, that regarding the Roastbusters interview as a disqualifying blight on Jackson’s record is “politically correct”, and not simply correct politics.  Until this came up, I limp-wristedly thought you can mock teenage rape victims on radio or you can run for parliament, but you couldn’t conceivably do both.

Man, that is a powerful line.

I’ve also learned, much to my shock and amazement, that Andrew Little and Matt McCarten want Labour to be a “broad church”.

Silly me for thinking only reforms to party rules and a repudiation of the heretic hunting culture could make the party appealing enough to a wide enough cross section of New Zealand to become relevant, not to mention electable, again.

Nothing so onerous was required. All it takes is a Willie Jackson revival with a warm-up act courtesy of Laila Harre. If only I had known that broadening a church required merely climbing up the steeple to set the clock back 20 years, I could have saved a lot of ink and cognitive energy.  Apparently, all New Zealand voters have been waiting for is for Labour to finally reinvent itself as The Alliance Historical Re-enactment Society.  Is there anything Labour’s deviously brilliant internal polling can’t teach us?

There’s many more former Alliance MPs Labour can bring back. New Zealand needs the return of John Wright, Frank Grover, Pam Corkery and Alamein Kopu.

What is deemed political correctness is often just dumb politics: David Cunliffe’s infamous apology for the contents of his trousers, for instance; or Labour’s dogged insistence on taxing sugary drinks while leaving capital gains untouched.  The ‘man ban’ is perhaps the best case. It is perfectly possible to engineer an appropriate gender balance in Parliament without banning men from nominating in local democratic contests. Labor in Australia have a non-controversial gender quota that slips entirely unnoticed under the media radar.  Again, the problem with the man-ban isn’t political correctness, but political incompetence; the implementation, not the idea.

In any event, this Chai Latte-swilling nancy-boy draws the line at the Willie Jackson Roastbusters episode. Subsequent, self-serving apologies notwithstanding, it reveals a mindset towards sexual assault that has no place in Parliament, let alone on the Labour Party’s benches. 

Having Jackson stand for Labour wasn’t in itself a fatally bad move, if they had handled it well. But the incompetence in not getting caucus onside, not having Jackson do a public mea culpa in advance on his comments, not having discipline, having the leader announce he will have a high list ranking etc is what damages them more.

Flynn resigns

The Washington Post reports:

Michael Flynn, Trump’s embattled national security adviser, is resigning amid controversy over communication with Russian ambassador. The resignation, which was confirmed by a White House official, comes after reports that Flynn had misled the vice president by saying he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

Has any President ever had a cabinet level official resign in disgrace within just one month of taking office before? I suspect a new record.

Is the blokefest in the Labour Leader’s Office the problem?

A Labour Party activist commented to me the other day that they thought the Willie Jackson fiasco would have never happened if Andrew Little had any women in senior roles in his office.  She said that a woman would have known instinctively that promising a high list place to a candidate who rape shamed a teenage victim on air would go down like cold sick with many women, especially Labour women.

I was surprised to hear the assertion that a party that prides itself on equality has no women in senior roles in the leader’s office. Surely this is not the case. So I checked, and she was right.

The senior staff for Little are:

  • Chief of Staff – bloke
  • Deputy Chief of Staff – bloke
  • Chief Press Secretary – bloke
  • Director of Research and Policy – bloke
  • Director of Engagement – bloke

It seems there are no women good enough to hold a senior role in Little’s office. Or maybe no women applied?

By contrast the National Leader’s Office has always had a number of women in senior roles (and all absolutely on merit).

Left activists are mainly living with Mummy and Daddy

Tim Blair blogs:

92 percent of left-wing activists in Berlin, Germany, live with their parents, while one in three are unemployed, according to a report by Bild.

The data was based off of 873 political activists, who had been investigated by authorities between 2003 and 2013. 84% of those investigated were men, while 73% were between the ages of 18 and 29.

“A third of them were unemployed, and 92 per cent still live with their parents,” reported the Daily Mail on Tuesday.

We need to find out what the data is in New Zealand! I suggest it be added to the census.

Ignoring WFF

Stuff reports:

A young Hamilton family with a newborn are struggling to make ends meet. 

High rent and low wages are being blamed. 

The pair did not want their names used out of fear that it could put their jobs at risk – he’s a diesel mechanic apprentice and she’s on maternity leave from a day-care centre job. Their take-home pay, after tax and KiwiSaver deductions, is just over $1000 a week. …

After tax, student loan and KiwiSaver:
She earns a week: $493
He earns a week: $550

Weekly payments:
Childcare: $240
Rent: $380  
Power each week: $40
Food: $120
Phone and internet: $50
Medical insurance: $26
Car insurance X2: $27
House and contents insurance: $10
Car payments $25
Personal loan (for rental bond): $100

Good to see this level of detail but they have ignored a number of revenue streams.

Based on their estimated gross income of $63,000 they would also get $47 a week in-work tax credit. And they may be eligible for up to $139.50 a week in childcare subsidies.

Labour’s Hamilton-based list MP Sue Moroney said two parents working full time should be able to raise a child, but low wages and high rent are making it increasingly difficult. 

Moroney is working with the family to see what financial assistance for childcare is available through Work and Income. 

She said they should be able to secure some financial support.

So this story was probably planted by Sue Moroney. Now it is good Sue is helping them investigate childcare assistance but if they are eligible for $140 a week, then it undermines the whole narrative of not enough to live on. Instead it is a story about check you are getting what you are eligible.

Note that even with the extra $186 a week, I am sure it is still tough to raise a kid on their combined income.

MFAT needs a 24/7 taskforce to keep up with Trump

The Herald reports:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up a 24-hour task force to oversee the transition of US President Donald Trump and feed back information in real time on policies that could affect New Zealanders.

It comes after ministry boss Brook Barrington was hauled into a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to answer questions on why it took days to confirm New Zealand dual citizens would not be barred from entering the US as part of Trump’s immigration policy changes.

Barrington says he was unhappy he hadn’t provided enough resources.

“I made it clear to the minister that I think we fell behind the curve on that,” he said after facing the ministry’s annual review by the Foreign Affairs and Trade select committee.

“I didn’t set up the structures early enough to ensure that we were able to provide the government with exactly that 24/7 real time advice.”

Half a dozen staff from MFAT’s America’s division in Wellington will work with staff in Washington on the task force, which will likely be in operation for several months.

“This is not (business as usual) at the moment and I think we need to be running this as a 24/7 operation which means being able to give the government advice in real time,” Barrington said.

Basically you have a President that makes up policy on the hoof and announces it on Twitter so yes you do need 24/7 monitoring. In the past a government would carefully communicate in advance likely policy changes, but no longer!

MacLennan a denier

Catriona MacLennan writes:

There is no such thing as identity politics.

This has as much credibility as someone saying there is no such thing as political correctness.

The term is used by white men seeking to hold on to their power and deny the human rights of Maori, Pasifika, women and LGBTQ people.

Sadly for MacLennan many opponents of identity politics are women, Maori and gay. So her argument fails at the first hurdle.

Hehir on fascism

Liam Hehir writes:

There are all sorts of reasons why it is a bad idea to justify or encourage violence against those who hold repugnant views. Here are a few of them.

The first problem is one of definition. The word “fascism” has been robbed of all meaning through years of overuse. In fact, as long ago as 1946, no less than George Orwell wrote that, “the word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable'”.

To listen to the activists of the Left and Right, both John Key and Barack Obama were fascists. No doubt Bill English will get the same treatment. When the man who attacked John Banks with animal excrement was convicted for assault, he responded by throwing more excrement at the judge, saying she was a “fascist judge”.

When everybody calls everybody else a fascist at the drop of a hat and violence against fascists is justified, how are you not inviting violence by all against all?

I’ve been called a fascist. Almost everyone on the right of politics has been. And I’ve had many threats of violence over the years, including death threats,

Secondly, the history of actual fascism shows that it thrives when fists start flying. The Nazis rose to power in an environment where physical brawling was part of the culture. When it comes to fighting in the street, ideologies committed to thuggery and passionate intolerance tend to have the advantage over the gentler forces of moderation and liberalism.

So if you are really concerned that fascism may rise again, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to applaud behaviour that recreates the conditions that enabled it to grab power in the first place. Don’t throw Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.

Yep.

Then there’s the simple fact that it’s immoral to physically assault people on the basis of their political views – however gross they happen to be.

In the aftermath of the Spencer attack, it was truly weird to see outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post and Vox Media wrestle with this notion like it was a serious ethical question. Even popular comedy site Cracked weighed in, asking, “So are we allowed to just punch Nazis now?” Their answer? “It’s complicated.”

It really isn’t. 

The whole point of liberal democracy is that political questions are resolved through votes and laws and not mobs and violence. People have the right to be grievously wrong and, as long as they do not call for the illegal overthrow of the state, to voice their wayward views. We really have no choice but to trust the public and our governing institutions.

Because if you think it’s OK to punch someone in the head  because you think they’re a fascist, then you might be one yourself.

Well they’re not fascists but they’re certainly not liberals.

Key on his resignation

The Herald reports:

Former Prime Minister John Key says a conversation with Helen Clark helped make his decision to retire while at the top of his game – but admits it was the hardest decision of his life and he did wake up in the night wondering about it.

An updated edition of John Roughan’s John Key: Portrait of a Prime Minister includes further material from the final years of Key’s time as Prime Minister as well as a post-resignation interview.

In it, Key says he made the final decision after a trip to New York last September, during which he had also had a conversation with Clark, who left Parliament after she was defeated by Key’s National Party in 2008.

Key says that in the conversation, he and Clark discussed the right time for a Prime Minister to resign. He did not believe she realised the significance of the conversation at the time, saying it was “a conversation she didn’t know she was having”.

Clark served one more year as PM than Key, but her legacy will always be remembered for how it ended by losing an election.

Key was back in Parliament this week but told Roughan he had signed up for the international speaking circuit, was likely to get back into investment banking and was likely to turn down a request to be on the board of an American airline: “It would feel a bit like coaching the Wallabies.”

Heh good call.

Would we spending this much if there was an alternative?

Stuff reports:

It has cost the public healthcare system about $750,000 in the past year to manage Ashley Peacock, an autistic man whose isolation has sparked human rights concerns.

The Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) confirmed the spending before a parliamentary health select committee on Wednesday.

Peacock, who is a compulsory patient under the Mental Health Act, is an intellectually disabled, autistic and mentally ill man who has spent the past five years in at a Porirua facility, spending up to 23 hours a day in his isolation wing.

Agencies, including the Human Rights Commission, have raised concerns about his treatment, with the United Nations funding its review of the use of seclusion in New Zealand.

That’s a huge amount of money one just one patient. Considering how tight health budgets are, I can’t imagine they would be keeping him so secluded in such a costly way if there was a safe alternative.

The DHB’s written response to the Greens’ select committee questions outlined that its reasons for continuing to hold him as an inpatient under the Mental Health Act was because his psychotic illness was resistant to treatment, and he was assessed as being at a very high risk of harm to others.

It’s easy to think that he would get better if he was allowed out more, but in some cases it simply isn’t the case.

OIA Statistics

The SSC has published statistics on how many OIA requests different agencies have received and what percentage get responded to within the legislated time-frame.

Those who got 100%, and had more than 25 requests were:

  • Electricity Authority (44)
  • Northland DHB (169)
  • CAA (145)
  • Stats NZ (39)

Then in order we have:

  • Health & Disability Commissioner 99.8%
  • IRD 99.5%
  • Customs 99%
  • MPI 99%
  • SSC 98.9%
  • Crown Law 98.9%
  • Housing NZ 98.7%
  • SIS 98.2%
  • SFO 98.1%Worksafe 98%

At the bottom end we have:

  1. Hawke’s Bay DHB 39%
  2. Canterbury DHB 61%
  3. West Coast DHB 61%
  4. TPK 66%
  5. Taranaki DHB 70%
  6. Tairawhiti DHB 71%
  7. DOC 73%
  8. CCDHB 75%
  9. Maritime NZ 75%

No organisation should be below say 90% let alone 75%.

The organisations that had the most requests were:

  1. Police 11,054
  2. EQC 6,785
  3. Corrections 2,457
  4. MBIE 1,691
  5. Fire Service 1,508
  6. Health 1,171
  7. Customs 1,018
  8. Justice 887
  9. NZ Defence Force 881
  10. Min Education 758

Weird that the Fire Service gets so many. The number the Police get is fairly staggering also.

What would be useful supplement to this data is if SSC published (as the Ombudsman does for complaints) how many requests come from companies, individuals, organisations, media, MP, political parties. I’d also publish a list of the 10 most frequent OIA submitters across all of Government.

Shearer on Labour

Michele Hewitson in the Listener interviews David Shearer:

Somebody tweeted: “After seven years in the Labour Party, David Shearer was looking for a safe, stable workplace, and he’s found that in South Sudan.” Is that funny? I ask him. If bleakly.

“Ha, ha. Yeah. It’s that old apocryphal story attributed to lots of politicians asked what it’s like standing across from the enemy. And the answer is: ‘That’s not the enemy. That’s the opposition. The enemy’s behind me.’ And, yeah, that’s what it felt like in many ways.”

Never given a chance.

The man ban really was the stuff of the loony bin. It proposed that some ­electorates allow only women candidates and received what ought to have been a predictable response. Shearer was against it and “that got me offside with some of the women in our party. I was receiving hundreds of letters about that policy and probably 95 out of 100 were totally against the man ban.”

The proposed policy also got him offside with his wife. “I remember walking in here and Nush was standing there and she said, ‘What the f— did you do that for? Don’t you think that I’ve got the ability to stand up against men? Who do you think you are? You guys.’ She was furious.”

They don’t have the man ban in place for electorates but effectively do for the party list. They have to rank the list so the caucus is 50/50.

They are likely to have six more electorate MPs who are male than female so the first six (after Little) on the list must be female.

He is off to head a peacekeeping outfit when he couldn’t keep the peace in his own party. Is that ironic? “Yeah,” he agrees, hardly sourly at all. Perhaps he wasn’t tough enough. “Umm. ­Possibly. Probably because I wasn’t perceived as being left enough; as too much of a centrist.”

No room for Shearer (or Jones) in a party heading more and more to the hard left.

Trump praised for LGBT stand

The Washington Post editorial:

WE INTERRUPT coverage of tumult in Congress and the administration with two pieces of good news. Both reflect progress American society has made in recognizing the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The White House announced Tuesday that, contrary to anonymous reports, the president will not reverse executive orders extending workplace protections to LGBT federal workers. The administration statement accurately and encouragingly recalled that Mr. Trump made a point of standing up for LGBT rights in his speech to the Republican National Convention last July, noting that he was “proud” to have done so.

Trump is arguably the most pro-LGBT Republican President there has been!

The Labour MP calculator

The Progress Report has a useful calculator for working out what the Labour Caucus will look like. It shows what a problem Labour has with their list ranking.

Let’s start with Labour getting the same party vote as last time, and Labour winning the same number of electorate seats except Hutt South (which will very likely go to National’s Chris Bishop).

They get 15 male electorate MPs and  11 female electorate MPs. Overall 32 MPs so six List Mps.

With Little No 1 on the list, then the next five have to be female to have gender equality.

At 31% (a level they have very rarely polled) they get 38 MPs. So they could get two male List MPs on top of Little – presumably David Parker and Trevor Mallard.

Now after the current caucus you have Raymond Huo (about to be an MP again) and Greg O’Connor and Willie Jackson competing for places. Now to keep gender equality they would need a caucus of 44 MPs to get them all in. For that they need to get 35% of the vote  And they were only above 30% in the average of the public polls once last year.

On current polling not a single male list candidate should get elected to Parliament, except Little. The only way they can do it is to ignore their own rules on gender equality or hope they get a magical 10% increase in their vote!10

Russell wins New Lynn nomination

The Herald reports:

Deborah Russell has been announced as the Labour Party’s candidate to contest the New Lynn electorate in the general election.

Russell, a tax expert from Massey University, will replace the outgoing David Cunliffe from the traditionally safe Labour seat.

Russell was seen as an outsider in the bid to be Labour’s candidate, but had the support of the party’s hierarchy.

How disappointing that Labour has chosen a respected tax policy expert with excellent communication skills over the guy who set up a secret trust for David Cunliffe while Labour were campaigning against secret trusts.

While I will disagree with Deborah on many issues, I think she will be a very effective MP and (one day a) Minister. Good to see the best candidate win selection.

Little isolated on Waitangi

Richard Harman writes:

Prime Minister Bill English’s Waitangi Day gamble appears to have paid off.

His decision not to go to Waitangi itself left him open to criticism that it was the responsibility  of the Prime Minister to be at Waitangi  whether the mood there was “good or bad” as Labour Leader Andrew Little put it

Yet Little himself has said he now won’t go, due to the media ban. Little has been all over the place on this. On the same day where he conceded he would not attend in future (if ban not lifted), he had an op ed appear attacking Bill English for not attending. Own goal.

All of this made Labour’s complaints about the Prime Minister not being there look a little lame.

Indeed, privately, Labour MPs at Waitangi, said it might have been better if the party had also reserved its position about attending and left the option open of walking out of Te Tii.

Tamaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare said his grandfather, Sir James Henare, a Tai Tokerau leader, had long regarded the Te Tii Marae as trouble and had therefore refused ever to visit it.

Little ended up saying that if the media ban were still in place year, Labour would not attend.

A pretty bad weekend for Little with his position on Waitangi becoming ridiculous and the backlash to his handpicked Willie Jackson candidature.

Meanwhile Bill English got a great reception at Orakei Marae:

But in two speeches at Ngati Whatua’s Orakei Marae he set out the Government’s commitment to the Treaty partnership in one of his most fluent and relaxed presentations since assuming the Prime Ministership last December.

And he also had a no drama call with the President of the United States. English’s decision to bypass Waitangi turned out to be incredibly well judged.

No thanks Mr Nduku

Stuff reports:

A former Zimbabwe secret police officer who murdered for President Robert Mugabe’s regime has entered New Zealand on a fake passport and is trying to set up a life here.

William Nduku, his tribal name, arrived in New Zealand in 2015. Living in limbo, he was refused asylum or the right to work and study and has been forced to survive on handouts from friends and the expat community and could face death if deported back to Zimbabwe.

I await the Green Party petition to demand he be given asylum.

He said at 19, he was forced to serve in Mugabe’s secret police and participated in up to 20 murders, several rapes and multiple tortures.

Of course now he would say he was forced to serve, but you know what – secret police tend to be the most fanatical loyal supporters of a regime, not conscripts.

He could have fled before he murdered, tortured and raped 20+ people. But he didn’t.

Nduku spent several months in Mt Eden prison. While in prison he alleged members of the Mongrel Mob assaulted him on a regular basis.

“It was awful. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody.”

Yeah almost as bad as being raped and tortured.

Nduku said he had been living off the generosity of others in Auckland, forced to try and make a living without the right to work.

Well not a lot of work available for murderers in New Zealand.

“It sometimes feels like the Government wants me to steal so that I can survive. I will never take anything that does not belong to me.”

Oh poor diddums. He will murder, rape and torture but he draws the line at stealing.

“I once stole a mango out of hunger, and my mother gave me such a beating for it. My mother raised us right.”

The mothers of his victims might disagree.

Human rights attorney Deborah Manning, who represents Nduku, has tried and failed to convince New Zealand’s Government to issue him a work or student visa.

Good. He should not be working, studying or living here.

English held up as example of dealing with Trump

Politico reports:

Still, not all of Trump’s phone calls have gone off the rails.

The trick to a good call with Trump is less about policy agreement than personal chemistry, said two people familiar with some of the world leader talks.

For example, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English began his Sunday evening call with Trump by thanking the president for taking the time to talk during the Super Bowl and chatting about New Zealand golfer Bob Charles, said someone briefed on the call. The person said that set the tone for an amicable conversation, even though English went on to express disagreement with Trump’s executive order restricting travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

This is good. Regardless of what you personally think of Trump, he is the President of the United States for the next 206 weeks, and you want heads of governments to be able to engage constructively with each other.

Green MP labels a rant from a Maori woman as “Pakeha racism”

A woman in Huntly made a vile rant against some Muslim women who were walking by. One of them recorded it so we could see how vile some people are and how they treat strangers. Catherine Delahunty the Green MP jumps in and concludes that this is an example of Pakeha racism.

The only problem of course is that the women in question appears to be Maori. Would be sensible for a Member of Parliament not to make assumptions before she labels something as Pakeha racism.