Archive for August, 2008

Taxpayers subsidise dodgy boss

August 29, 2008

Wait! Let me get this straight.

The NZ government sets up a dubious immigration scheme to bring in foreign (mostly Pacific) seasonal workers to help farmers get staff at wages Kiwis won’t work for (because they can’t live on what the farmers want to pay).

A dodgy farmer boss hires 70+ Kiribati workers, but crams them in 20 to a house, and charges them for the privilege. From what were already low wages. Basically, after all the ‘deductions’ by the boss, the staff have to fly back to their home (having borrowed to fly here in the first place) without their wages.

And the Dept of Labour – generous souls that they are – think the Kiwi taxpayer should pay these Kiribati workers their wages BECAUSE THE DODGY BOSS WON’T!!! Why the heck can’t the Labour Dept. pay the wages in the interim, and sue the living cr*p out of this filthy boss?

The victims here are the Kiribati workers, and they should be helped. But giving a gift to the shonky boss just makes NZ taxpayers victims too. Shameful, Dept of Labour. Truly shameful.

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Filthy, scumbag cops sham taser approval

August 28, 2008

NZ Police Commissioner Howard Broad

NZ Police Commissioner Howard Broad

NZ Police Association head Greg O'Connor

NZ Police Association head Greg O'Connor

NZ Police Commissioner Howard Broad should be sacked! After his taser trial report came out at the start of the year – just after the $8m bungled police hounding of Tuhoe activists in the terrorist Operation Eight – Broad did not want to ask for more lethal weapons, so he sat on the report.

Seeing an opportunity, Broad waited until the start of the scheduled 2008 election campaign to release the report, knowing that no political party wants to look soft on law and order in an election. And Broad tops it off with his sham ‘consultation’ with MPs, that lasts about 12 hours and just involves Broad listening to one parliamentary debate, without even waiting for MPs to give him written submissions.

Broad even says “I was not asking for the minister’s approval, I wasn’t asking for a serious piece of advice, …” How shameful is that?

And who said an unelected, unaccountable police commissioner should decide what weapons he and his chums get to use on the public? ‘By convention…’ please!!!! This deranged ‘convention’ must be changed immediately. The new Policing Bill before parliament should include specific limitation on police, so they can only use weapons specified by full parliamentary approval in law. No more back-door sham consults by a police, who want the power of kings.

Which brings us to Greg O’Connor, the ranting, frothing Police Association head, who says:

Putting the decision to Parliament was a further erosion of the convention of the commissioner’s operational independence of Parliament.

“What if Parliament had said no? What would he have done then?”

Mr O’Connor said it set a dangerous precedent if Parliament changed its mind on the Taser in the future, or if other controversial decisions would now be expected to be put to MPs.

What more can you say – ‘Rant’ O’Connor wants police to be above the law, able to choose their own weapons without oversight or approval by elected representatives of the people he wishes to inflict those weapons on. A monster.

Ironically, NZ First’s Ron Mark put it best when he said:

he was “baffled” by the commissioner’s eight months of hesitancy over what was a “no-brainer”

A no-brainer indeed! Any MP who lets cops have tasers shows no brains, any MP who lets cops decide what weapons they get has no brains, and anyone who tries to portray police as at risk (they’re not – they are well down the ACC list of hazardous professions) has no brains. It is the NZ public who are at risk from increasingly well-armed and thuggish police. Not surprising, given their union head and commissioner, is it?

Update: The Mental Health Foundation has called on the police to not introduce tasers without first properly consulting them, as mental health sufferers are far more likely to suffer from police tasering. Will Howard Broad run another 12 hour ‘consultation’?

Update 2: Oh my stars! It just gets worse. The NZ police ‘study’ they used to justify introducing tasers includes the gem that 39% of cops can’t think of any downside to tasers. Hint to mindless cops – 300 deaths in the USA from taser use!

The report said 39 per cent of officers surveyed could identify no risks or disadvantages to having a Taser available to police officers. Some thought that the Taser posed no more risk than other tactical options.

The potential risks identified were that subjects may gain control of the Taser and use it to incapacitate officers, misuse of the device, and that some officers may become over reliant on Tasers, electing to use them when firearms should be used.

And the dangers the rest of these cops identified were all about dangers to them – nothing about dangers to the public or ‘suspects’ – the people these electro-shock weapons are aimed at. Frightening. Not one cop identified any risk to the people they use 50,000 volt guns on.

Update 3: Stunning!!! Police commissioner Howard Broad doesn’t want to get tasered, even though he is happy to inflict this on every police officer who trains to use the taser, and he is happy for tasers to electro-shock any member of the public; old, young, mentally ill, unfit, heart conditions… Can anyone spell dangerous hypocrite? If Howard Broad won’t front to get tasered live on 6pm TV news, then MPs should immediately ban tasers. Only fair.

Labour & police approving tasers

August 27, 2008

The shameful saga of Labour approving NZ Police use of electro-shock weapons – tasers – has continued, with police minister Annette King telling parliament that police commissioner Howard Broad will decide soon, after he has heard what MPs think.

King makes clear though, that what MPs say will not decide Broad, but that Broad has some kind of power over parliament to decide what weapons the police can use. Truly disgraceful!

It is time for clear laws to be put in place that limit the weapons police can use to be only those approved by parliament, after public consultation. I for one do not want the least intelligent, most thuggish sector of society – the police – to have 50,000 volt electro-shock guns.

And no, I am not reassured by Annette King’s mindless blather about police being audited by having short video clips recorded every time a taser is fired (camera built into taser). Police have shown themselves willing to ‘lose’ or ‘edit’ footage in the past to justify their actions. And even if unedited video is available of tasering incidents, we have only just seen several cops get off scot-free after being caught on unedited CCTV video beating and pepper spraying repeatedly a mentally ill prisoner locked in a cell in the Bay of Plenty. And the judge blocked public release of the video as it would show the truth. Hardly reason to have confidence in the police getting tasers.

I’m with the UN – tasers are torture!! Ban everyone from having them – especially the cops!

Update:   Rant O’Connor of the police union association has come out all in favour of tasers, as has NZ First’s Ron Marks. Perhaps if every MP supporting taser introduction was tasered 6 times first…

Labour & Nats PPP perfidy

August 26, 2008

You have to love National’s Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson. Maurice just can’t help but tell the truth, in his enthusiasm for the latest right-wing plan.

This time its road tolls. You would think National would have learnt from the caning they got in the 1990s when trying to implement road tolls, but no. Anyway, Williamson blurted out the Nats plan to have Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) fund road projects, which means:

  1. Direct tolls – you pay at a toll booth or by a tracking device in your car that bills you each time you use a toll road   OR
  2. Indirect tolls – the state pays with your taxes for each time the tracking device in your car goes onto a toll road.

Either way, we taxpayers pay for it. Question is – who do we pay?

PPPs are the worst form of privatisation! Traditional privatisation involves the state selling off all or part of the ownership in a state asset or operation. PPPs take several forms, but usually involve the BOOT model – the state ‘Buys’ construction of an asset, ‘Owns’ the asset, but lets a private company ‘Operate’ the asset (normally for 30 years -the useful economic life of most infrastructure assets), before the private company transfers the run-down asset back to state ownership, so it can be expensively rebuilt ready to start the cycle of fleecing the public purse again.

Overseas experience shows these PPPs are a disgraceful ripoff of public money. Reality is, the public invest all the capital and take all the risk, while a Private ‘shell’ company takes all the profit off the public, and laughs all the way to the bank, leaving the public to rebuild knackered assets.

To understand in a NZ context, think of our national rail system. ‘Normally’ privatised by National in 1993, owners Tranz Rail asset stripped and bled dry the network, while investing nothing in developing the business – many services were stopped under their incompetent mismanagement. Late owners Toll did not improve things, before the state bought it back in 2004.

If NZ Rail had been PPPed, the state would have retained ownership, but given Tranz Rail a 30year contract to run the rail. As part of ‘running’ the rail system, Tranz Rail would still have stripped and sold tracks for scrap steel, sold and leased back the Cook Strait ferries, etc, and paid out these ‘savings’ as dividends to the operator (Tranz Rail), and the public would still have had to invest $200m (and climbing) in rebuilding the track after we got frustrated enough with Tranz Rail’s failed operations to buy it back.

But, Tranz Rail would not have needed to invest the $300m capital that they initially bought NZ Rail for. This allows them to invest that cash elesewhere and make bigger profits. And with 20 years left on their operation contract, Tranz Rail would have been able to charge the state for buying out this contract (which based on their initial asset-stripping fueled profits, would have cost hundreds of millions). Nice – for Tranz Rai’ls owners.

The worst part is – Labour are just as bad as National on all this. Dr Cullen has enthusiastically supported PPPs, and said they are inevitable! And will apply to existing roads, so thy cannot even claim it is just to help Labour build new roads – they want PPPs to let their capitalist cronies make a viable profit from toll roads.

At this point it should be mentioned the infrastructure investing companies have spent the last 15 years planning & holding conferences, to try crack their way into profiteering from infrastructure assets. Isn’t it nice that both Labour and National are helping them so much? No? Didn’t think so. After all, it is us who will pay for it, which is what the companies always wanted – a permanent source of profits from the peasants…

And none of this even considers the human rights considerations. Recall those tracking devices in your car? They are the best method the road tolling enthusiasts have come up with to prevent us having to physically stop and pay at toll booths, like we used to on Auckland’s harbour bridge.

But of course they also offer the state – or worse, a private company – with the ability to surreptitiously track and moitor where people are. And that should give people even more shivers than they get from Google Earth trying to make maps with high resolution satellite images that show people going about their business. Effectively, it makes all of us inmates on a global form of home detention with electronic bracelets tracking us. None of this happens with straight state-owned, tax funded roads. Says it all really.

Cricket ‘champions’ for beating 1 team?

August 24, 2008

Pakistan may find themselves playing just India over the ODI knock-out Champions Trophy, if other teams follow the lead of South Africa. The Africans have just announced they will not play in Pakistan, where the tournament was due to be hosted.

With International Cricket Council ceo Haroon Lorgat declaring it too late to swap venues, there is a real prospect of the Trophy descending beneath the level of farce the ICC managed when they finished last year’s World Cup in near-darkness.

Hopefully Pakistan will unbend their stiff backs and shift the venue to Sharjah, where successful tournaments have been held, and which offers the cheapest airfares for Pakistani’s to see the games. A large quota of seats for Pakistani fans would create the advantages of home matches as much as possible, and the bulk of the revenues could still go the Pakistan Cricket Board.

NZ Cricket should show some balls and also boycott the tournament unless shifted to a safe venue. NZ teams have twice (in Sri Lanka) and once (in Pakistan) been close to bomb attacks. Wouldn’t a venue shift be better than having a (good) possibility of cricketers limbs being blown off?

Update: The ICC have announced the Champions Trophy will be postponed – good! Better still, work to have an alternative venue ready in case – as is likely – Pakistan is still unsafe next year.

Shonky migrant labour scheme exposed!

August 15, 2008

NZ potato pickers

And so the stories start to trickle out about the shonky migrant labour scheme Labour dreamed up to ‘help’ Pacific nations. A dodgy Nelson boss screws over 80 Kiribati migrant workers, doesn’t pay them, and the workers get sent home unpaid!!!

And it seems the Presybtarian church had already raised concerns over abuse of Vanuatu workers earlier.

“We are hearing stories of workers who are cold and hungry. Some arrive to find they will be crammed into houses sleeping many per room, each having an exorbitant amount deducted from their pay for rent and power. Worse some arrive to find no roof over their heads,” [Rev] Pamela [Tankersely] says.

What nice bosses. Can’t understand why they had trouble finding Kiwi workers for their orchards…. what’s that? The slave conditions? Oh.

Time to junk this dodgy migrant labour scheme, and support NZ Aid to provide training for Pacific people for good jobs in their country, and not use such schemes as a cop-out for NZ bosses to offer sweatshop type conditions that Kiwi workers won’t tolerate.

Heritage lost

August 14, 2008

A NZ Herald article on Aucklander’s concern over vanishing heritage structures has jolted me to mention my concern over one specific heritage aspect in Auckland province (i.e. entire urban Auckland area).

As part of the ‘upgrade’ of Auckland’s urban passenger rail services, Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) – a wholly owned subsidiary of Auckland Regional Council – has been steadily rebuilding rail stations and pedestrian overbridges in the region.

Sadly, in doing so, the blinkered town planners & architects have been either removing the existing heritage buildings & bridges, or been destroying them. Recent examples include the removal of the 2-storey wooden signal box and bungalow style station building from Newmarket so a new, (supposedly) improved station layout could be built. Similarly, a (genuinely) better* pedestrian overbridge at Middlemore station in north Papatoetoe saw ARTA remove the old and still-strong and safe wooden overbridge.

Historic Middlemore rail station overbridge (removed, 2008)

Heritage structures – the anchor that links our waka to the land – are being treated with contempt because it is faster & cheaper to destroy the diverse buildings than to restore them. What an embarrassing lack of intelligence from ARTA, ARC and the half-wit contractors…

Far too many Kiwis ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at overseas heritage buildings and landscapes, without putting 2 and 2 together, and realising to get historic visitor attractions you have to actually preserve them from the knuckle-draggers with chainsaws and diggers.

P.S. I heard Wellington rail network also had a footbridge removed a week ago. The march of the mindless concrete contractors continues.

* Though better because it includes a disabled lift, the new Middlemore footbridge is uglier (subjectively), but also illustrates the idiocy of the ‘planners’ involved. Despite the obvious possibility of linking Middlemore hospital to one of their new multi-storey carparks across the tracks and over a small adjacent sideroad, the planners did not see fit to talk the Counties District Health Board into extending the overhead bridge so people could walk directly from carpark to station to hospital. A small 20m extension either side. Talk about short-sighted!

Political pundit poppycock

August 13, 2008

Gak! The paucity of useful political analysis in NZ has just been shown yet again, with Canterbury University politics fellow Dr Terese Arsenau blithering on at TVNZ about Labour’s chances of retaining government in this year’s election.

What distinguishes an otherwise bland statement of facts from the nonsense laid out, is that Arsenau is still wedded to the old First Past the Post (FPP) electoral mindset. She ponders “whether the Greens – or the Maori Party – would think it appropriate to prop up Labour” if Labour got substantially less MP’s than National (but both National and Labour were short of 50% of seats). According to Arsenau:

Would such an arrangement be judged as a legitimate outcome or the hijack of the election from the rightful winner? 

This shows Arsenau still thinks a government must have a ‘large party’ (i.e. National or Labour) as the major player in a government. MMP possibilities (assuming no overhang for simplicity)  like a government of 61 MPs from 61 separate parties is possible, though hugely unlikely. Equally, a government of 3 parties each with 21 MPs – giving a majority with 63 MPs – does not require any one party in the coalition government to be dominant.

Even if one party in a coalition government is dominant, that does not mean they can – or should – expect to get support and laws passed in direct proportion to their proportion of the coalition governments seats (the much lamented ‘tail wagging the dog’). The balance depends on how closely aligned the colaitions party positions are.

Labour had no trouble supporting a Green Member’s Bill (S59 amendment), and taking most of the flack instead of Sue Bradford and the Greens – because most Labour MP’s also supported that law change. By contrast, Labour’s dominant position in the 2005-08 government has not meant an easy ride for their Emmissions Trading Scheme Bill, which may yet fail to get passed due to lack of Green party support. Why? Because the way Labour has framed the Bill has been so far from Green party views on how to tackle emmissions, that they are struggling to support Labour on it.

So, Arsenau’s contention that there is some ‘moral obligation’ for minor parties to support the single largest party to form a coalition government is blithering nonsense. Any group of parties that can get a majority of MPs to support them on confidence & supply votes can form a government.

The true ‘viability test’ for a coalition government is how they manage the legislative demands of the coalition’s respective parties to get a ‘fair’ balance that satisfies each party enough to stay in the coalition. That is something each party currently judges with an eye to how many successes they want and who they can blame for failures, at the next election. Perhaps this ad hoc system of legislative balance is something Arsenau could illuminate?

Nasty Nats bash beneficiaries!

August 11, 2008

John Key has announced National party ‘Social Services’ policy, and unsurprisingly, given it was announced to the most unthinking, bigotted bunch of cranks you can find – the RSA, it is a ‘bash the beneficiary’ policy. Blithering pensioners ranted on about ‘giving beneficiaries respect’ and ‘making them feel good about themselves’, despite it mostly being a policy that lets WINZ staff cut benefits if you don’t get enough work once your kids hit 6 years old.

National party activist David Farrar (on his blog and National Radio this afternoon) nicely summarised the policy, as:

  • Paid work is the best way to reduce child poverty
  • A part-time work obligation on DPB recipients whose youngest child is six or older
  • A part-time work obligation on those (5,600) sickness and invalids beneficiaries who have been assessed as capable of working part-time
  • No work for the dole
  • Any long-term unemployed (one year or more) will have to reapply for the benefit and undergo a comprehensive work assessment
  • Case Managers to be given more options rather than just stopping benefit payments, such as a graduated reduction as an interim sanction
  • Increase in the earnings threshold before abatement from $80 a week to $100 a week
  • Anyone on the sickness benefit for more than a year will be sent to a designated doctor for an assessment
  • CPI adjustments to benefits to be enshrined in law (as it is for Super) rather than merely being convention
  • Those who frequently need benefit advances to attend (at taxpayer expense) a budget advisory service to help them manage
  • In my view, there are two positive points – increasing the abatement threshold from $80 to $100, and inflation (CPI) adjusting benefits in law – with one neutral point – budget advice (depending on how it is handled) – and the rest are 6 negative points (I ignore the claimed ‘no work for dole’ as it is contradicted by the following point, where unemployed have to reapply and get assessed – these are the first steps to work for dole). So an overall fail mark.

    Naturally, the Greens are baffled, Labour must be gleeful at their main opponents blundering like this and swiftly pointed out the old Nats ‘dob in a bludger’ campaign, and the other minor parties will struggle to find time to even comment (please media – don’t ask Peter Dunne what he thinks; if he had any policy he would have told you already).

    In my view, yes, there are people who are content to live on benefits when they could get ‘some’ paid work, but that is a very badly paid life that would not be very pleasant to live. The real focus should be on helping people into well-paid work (not just minimum wage) that fits in with their family commitments. And forcing invalids to work 15 hours a week or get their benefit cut is just obscene.

    The truly interesting question has been ignored by all parties of course – given beneficiary numbers have dropped substantially over the economic boom in Labour’s 9 years as government, why haven’t WINZ staff been better able to give individual attention to the smaller numbers on the benefit?

    I know of at least one person on the dole who used to work until an accident, but when his health returned, the WINZ staff stupidly tried getting him into computing courses. Given his very evident low academic potential, they should have been helping him into a supervised labouring job, but….? Over ten years later, no change in circumstances. The beneficiary should not be blamed if the government (both Nat and Labour for this guy) have not helped him into work.  But better for him to be on a benefit than have the Nats cut his benefit because he hadn’t fixed things, when he is clearly not capable of doing so.

    Better policy needed National – by far!!!

    One good option would be for the state to offer guaranteed full-time work (at the $12 an hour minimum wage or higher) for anyone who wants it – beneficiaries or others. This allows beneficiaries to choose to step up if they want and are capable, while still providing benefits for those unable to work in these tasks (say DoC tree planting, etc). The obvious danger though, is that people will view those still on the (lower paid) benefits as ‘undeserving’, and demand the benefits get eliminated, in which case the guaranteed work opportunity becomes ‘work for the dole’ (though at least at minimum wage – a big boost from current benefit levels).

    Sprung! Nats caught plotting privatisations

    August 3, 2008

    This will probably be the biggest gaffe truth of the annual National Party conference – Nats finance spokesperson Bill English caught by TV3 on tape saying National will sell-off state-owned Kiwibank ‘eventually’ (i.e. straight after they feel they are safely ensconced in power permanently).

    So much for ‘honest’ John Key & his merry band of corporate thieves men. For the National party trolls out there, forming and keeping Kiwibank state owned is good because:

    1. It gives Kiwis competition – a real choice between Oz owned banks that treat us with lousy customer service, and far better locals-focussed service from Kiwibank (and the credit unions). Weren’t National in favour of competition? Or was that not meant to include competition for your rich mates’ banking operations?
    2. It stops vast sums being siphoned offshore by the Oz-owned banks. This lowers NZ’s terrible balance of payments deficit, making our economy stronger.
    3. It strengthens our economy by retaining high-level banking planners/economists in the NZ economy. Oz banks can totally shift this offshore at any time; a domestic bank has no ability to use offshore head office staff to run the local bank.

    The follow up questions for National has to be – what other state assets do you plan to sell ‘eventually’? The just-nationalised railways (Ontrack and Kiwirail) that ‘honest John’ was so disparaging about? Surely you wouldn’t sell our roads like you wanted to in the 1990s?

    Of even more concern than National’s now exposed policies of privatising state assetts, or even borrowing to give tax cuts to the wealthy, is that of more public-private partnerships.

    PPPs are the most dishonest form of privatisation – the state (us taxpayers) get to put up all the capital (and hence take all the risk), so some private company can ‘manage’ the assets’ operations for (typically) 30 years, while making a nice profit on the ‘management’. The company then ‘relinquishes’ the asset back to the state when its good and knackered from their lack of maintenance (increases the profits, dont’cha know?), leaving the taxpayer to fork out for extensively – and expensively – rebuilding the stuffed asset. PPPs have been such a winner overseas.

    All premised on the ‘fact’ that the private management company is somehow ‘more efficient’ than state-run management, despite never having supplied proof of this assertion. No wonder National want to sell off Kiwibank – the last thing they want is this awkward reminder of a state bank out-performing their ‘superior’ free market chums…

    And the Nats wonder why the Labour-types keep tagging wicked Prince John “slippery”.