Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013: a personal reflection

so, 2013 is pretty much over, and what an incredible year it has been.  well, for me personally, it has been a year of amazingly wonderful experiences, strengthening friendships and i guess it has also been a time for me to find out a lot more about myself.

i started the year hoping to help out with local body elections, then being asked to stand myself.  it took me a few months to lay the groundwork that would lead to my decision to be a candidate.  it meant consulting a whole lot of people, persuading a couple, and looking for support.

and i was lucky enough to find a lot of support, sometimes from places i least expected it.  but there were so many people who not only believed in me, but were willing to put their time, effort and money into my campaign.  it was so incredibly humbling & uplifting at the same time.  i've spent many years dabbling in politics, but crippled by a total lack of self-belief and self-confidence.  i've never felt i was quite good enough or that i had what it takes.  and i know that the confidence has to be built from within, but it sure does help to surround yourself with people who believe in you and won't let you believe anything but the best of yourself.

during the course of the campaign, i strongly felt like it was the right thing for me to be doing and that i was in my element.  i loved the experiences, and meeting so many different people, hearing about their issues and the ways they were struggling.  it became so clear that the best solutions come from within communities, and that they need the helping hand of government, both local and central, to make those solutions work.  it's people who work in a particular field or have lived experiences to bring to the table who are the most valuable in creating change.  the job of a good leader is to find those people, bring them together & facilitate their ability to achieve.  while remaining quietly in the background.  the latter is something not well suited to most people who are attracted to politics, and yet it's crucially important to step back & let others shine when you really want to get results.

then the campaign was over, and i had to learn to deal with failure.  not the first time, not at all.  but it was certainly a more public failure than any i've had so far.  however, it was another opportunity to develop strength & resilience, to keep my dignity and remember that there is still so much to fight for.  it was a time to for me to remember that i'd been so lucky to have so much support and so many positive experiences, and if the result wasn't what i was hoping for, well that wasn't the most important thing i'd gained from the process.  so i gave myself a few days to mope, then got on with other things that needed to be done.

part of which is work on the central government elections coming up next year.  there is so much going on, so many important decisions to be made & a government that must be changed.  we need a government that responds to the needs of the marginalised, whether that marginalisation is economic or as a result of personal characteristics like race, gender or ability.  we need a government that is prepared to be inclusive of all its citizens, and not prepared to denigrate them to score political points.  we need a government committed to ensuring people have jobs, jobs that pay enough to live on; to decent working conditions; to educational opportunities for people of all ages.  well, i could carry on, there are so many policies in so many areas i'd like to see put in place, so many things reversed and improved.

so i expect that's where the bulk of my energies in 2014 will be directed.  but not solely.  as with 2013, i hope to be involved in planning and organising various events, and working on projects.  this year, i was lucky enough to be involved in organising the regional interfaith forum, a community iftar, an interfaith service, a silent march against rape culture followed by a public meeting, a regional conference & fundraisers, & public speaking engagements (especially dear to me was the opportunity to speak at the rememberance for nelson mandela at rugby park).  on top of that were the regular board meetings for shama, free FM, becoming a trustee of a new trust called the ethnic nz trust, and helping to set up an ECE centre.  there were various media appearances, the most memorable of which (for me) was an appearance on 7 sharp to talk about the boston bombings.

most of these activities will be carrying on into the new year.  i find that i'm looking forward to 2014, and am expecting it to be as tumultuous, turbulent, challenging, exciting & rewarding as 2013 has been.  i hope the year goes well for all of you as well; wishing the best for you in whatever circumstances you're facing.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

the spirit of 45: what's missing

ah, it's been too long a break from blogging.  a couple of reasons.  mostly because my life hasn't really slowed down after the local body elections.  i think that's possibly part of a coping mechanism on my part - i cope with life a lot better when i'm busy & don't have too much time to think.  i do realise this is an "issue", a problem that i should deal with in some way, but who has the time for that, right?

it's also because central government elections are on next year, and a lot of the preparatory work for that is happening right now.  and i find that at the moment, i care too much to just sit quietly on the sidelines and let things happen, the way i did for the 2011 elections.  i felt strangely unmotivated at that time, by politics or by very much else.  but now, i care and it feels good.

but also, i go through periods of time when the words just don't flow.  but now i'm on holiday, and i have a bit of space to write again.  so here goes.

a couple of weeks ago, i was involved in a fundraiser which was a showing of a documentary film called "the spirit of 45".  it was about the labour government in the UK that took power in 1945 headed by clement attlee, and won another term after that.  wikipedia's summary of the film is as good as any:

Relying primarily on archive footage and interviews, and without a narrative voiceover, the film recounts the endemic poverty in prewar Britain, the sense of optimism that followed victory in World War 2 and the subsequent expansion of the welfare state, founding of the National Health Service and nationalisation of significant parts of the UK's economy. The film documents the extent to which these achievements, as Loach sees them, have since been subject to attack in the decades that followed, particularly under the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

and here are a couple of reviews, one from nz.

it was definitely an interesting film, providing a vision of a different way of organising society and the economy.  a vision of equitable distribution and full employment, centralised services that weren't based on profit.  an alternative, if you will, of the capitalist model, and particularly the neo-liberal version, that we live in today.

as an accurate portrayal of british history, well i can't comment if it is one.  not having any particular ties to that country, nor an particular interest in its post-war history, i'm not in any position to judge.  i certainly heard comments from those who came to see it, who do have those ties (one even voted for mr attlee in that election), that many things were left out & that it wasn't entirely a full picture of what happened at that time.

certainly, the portrayal of the depression and the issues of poverty were all too real.  i found it pretty sad that the major issues covered by the film are all still major issues we are facing here in nz today.  housing.  employment (or lack thereof).  access to healthcare.  decent wages.

there is no doubt in my mind that government has a crucial role to play in these areas.  the policy of building houses, of centralising the rail transport system & having a strong public health systems are all policies that are as relevant today as they were in 1945.

however, there was one thing that really stood out for me as i watched this film, which was based on historical footage & modern-day interviews with people who were born in the 1930s.  it was the absolute lack of people of colour.  there was only one shot of a black man, as part of an audience shot, and no-one of colour who had a speaking role.  no-one interviewed, none of the experts, none in the archival footage other than this one unnamed black guy.

i really noticed it, probably because i'm a person of colour, but also because i know that poverty and low pay are issues which affect people of colour.  a lot.  the lowest paid professions in this country - cleaners & the aged care sector - are dominated by women of colour.  they tend to have some of the lowest standards of living, not just because of class but because they are often shut out of better paying jobs due to direct discrimination.

that the voices of people of colour are totally absent makes the rest of the film suspect for me.  even though i appreciate the ideas that were discussed, and the real life stories of people who had no safety net.  i just can't imagine what would make a person so colour-blind, so oblivious to the fact that there was a whole section of society who was missed out of this telling of history.

which then makes me wonder: perhaps those policies enacted by the attlee government didn't benefit people of colour.  those new houses might not have been available for those people, access to health still wasn't as good, access to jobs non-existent.  now i'd like to see a black person's telling of that history, to see if that government provided any hope for them, any substantial change.

this disappearing of people of colour struck me as well, because there are many political commentators on the left today who would also like us to be invisible and to stay invisible.  any mention of issues around race (as well as gender & other markers of identity) are dismissed as "identity politics", because those issues aren't important & don't affect the lives of the ones who are urging us to be quiet, to sit back and wait for the more important issues to be solved.

it may be coincidental that i found this quote at blue milk today, from martin luther king:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice… who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait.

but it seems so relevant to the idea that identity politics are a distraction and irrelevant.  and i can't help but conclude that a film which completely leaves out the narratives of people of colour is hugely incomplete.

Monday, 28 October 2013

labour day reflections

must be time for another labour day post.

i promised myself that i would do nothing productive this weekend, and apart from a bit of stuff catching up on emails this evening, i've pretty much stuck to that.  having had a pretty hectic year, i really needed the break.  time to relax, to day-dream, to just not worry about anything much at all.  it was lovely.

but i can't let the day go without acknowledging why we have it.  3 news did a nice little clip today, except that it was pretty depressing so few people knew the history behind labour day.  so here's some:

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.

i'll leave you to read the rest by clicking through.  it's a day for commemorating rights in the workplace, except in recent times it's more appropriate to think about rights that have been lost. we no longer have an 8-hour working day, that went with the employment contracts act back in 1991. at that time we also lost award rates that ensured decent wages across various industries, we lost overtime pay.

the damage done to unions has meant that the rights to collective bargaining have been eroded. there is plenty of evidence that unionised workers have better pay and conditions than non-unionised workers, and that the efforts put in by unions benefit non-unionised workers as well.  for example:

Their findings on wage settlements for the last year are startling. For those agreements for which they could calculate an increase from June 2009 to June 2010 (some for example don’t specify a wage rate, or don’t have a preceding agreement to calculate an increase from) adult minimum wages in collectives went up by an "annualised" rate of 4.2 percent – the largest they have ever reported. It compares with an increase over the same period of 1.6 percent in the Labour Cost Index (LCI)and 2.1 percent in the average wage, both of which include non-unionised workers and unionised workers on individual agreements. Given that all collectives are union collectives, that’s a strong message about the success of both unions and collectives. Of course, collectives have other improved conditions too, and help to lock in improved conditions (if explicitly included) despite law changes.

current legislation before the house seeks to further erode those rights. if you want to get details about the proposed changes in the employment relations amendment bill, check out the factsheets on the sidebar of the CTU website.  or if you prefer to listen than to read, here's helen kelly explaining the proposed changes:

if you're in for some heavy reading, check out the human rights commission's submission - you can find a link here.  and if not, here's a summary from the bottom of a 3news piece:

The EPMU says the bill will allow employers to:
  • Refuse to negotiate a collective agreement with their employees
  • Pay new workers less than the rate in the collective agreement
  • Opt out of industry agreements in order to undercut their competitors on wages
  • Deny workers meal and rest breaks
  • Reduce the wages and conditions of vulnerable workers such as cleaners when taking over a new contract
  • Dock the pay of workers taking partial strike action
  • Impose more restrictions on the right to strike
  • Refuse to provide employees the information they need to challenge an unfair redundancy or dismissal.
so on a day when we should be celebrating hard-won rights, i think it's also appropriate to reflect on what we're about to lose and to think about vulnerable workers on low pay and the lack of ability to fight for a better deal.

migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, especially those whose residency status depends on their job.  in recent times, i've found out just how vulnerable young workers are.  if they are under 15, there are no terms and conditions, no minimum wage, really nothing at all to stop employers exploiting workers under 15.  and they certainly do.

so much of the damage and the erosion of work rights can be found in the prevailing attitude that a job is a privilege, rather than a human right.  yet this country signed up to the universal declaration of human rights, as have so many countries across the world, and it's right there in article 23:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
the thing is that, as the first 3news clip i linked to above shows, so many people don't know the history of work or the history of unions and the struggle for workers rights.  it's not something that's taught at school, it's not something that is passed on through popular culture.  that there are people in the workforce today who don't know that there was once a different way to organise work, a way that ensured much less inequality, much less poverty and a better standard of living across the board, well it's just sad.

it's up to us to keep reminding people about work rights, and about the erosion that is currently proposed.  it's why i'm really looking forward to the taku manawa project i'm doing in conjunction with the young workers resource centre.  it's not much, but at least it will provide just a little bit of education for some young people in the city.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


i don't want to be doing another post about burqas.  it's not like i haven't written extensively about them.  and to put the focus on them again is to reinforce the notion that the only thing important about muslim women are burqas.

but this happened today, and i find that i can't ignore it:

Yuet Rappard, a farm worker, appeared in front of Justices of the Peace in the Dunedin District Court yesterday and was found guilty of offensive behaviour for telling a student to remove her burqa while she was shopping on May 17.

Rappard, representing herself, did not dispute that she told a University of Otago student to take her burqa off at Garden's New World, but told the court she was expressing her freedom of speech.

"I said 'shame on you, you should take it off. When in Rome you should do as the Romans do'."

Rappard, who moved to New Zealand from the Netherlands when she was a child, believed burqas should be banned and felt "intimidated" when she saw people wearing them.

when in rome. a tired old argument that i wrote about a couple of years ago. but let's pretend for now it's a valid one.  the burqa is legal in nz, and ms rappard is in nz, so ms rappard should adhere to local culture & accept the fact that we allow women to wear burqas here.  maybe she should accept that in this country, we have a bill of rights act that includes freedom of religion, and she should be prepared to live with that.

she might also want to learn about nz history, which involves colonisation and settlement, land theft and institutional injustices by the crown which we are still in the process of resolving.  those people who came here at that time did not "do as the romans" (well, actually if you look at the history of the actual romans in their heyday, they pretty much did), they did not adopt the local culture, live a tribal lifestyle, change the way they dressed so they were compatible with the local inhabitants.  in fact they did so much the opposite that maori couldn't be spoken at schools, and even today, many maori are shamed or denied employment for following the cultural practice of te moko.

so the burqa-wearing foreign student is following exactly in the footsteps of those who came before her by not changing or adapting her own religious beliefs to her environment.  in fact, she isn't quite living up to our history, because she isn't trying to force anyone else to wear a burqa, she hasn't any institutional power to prevent anyone else speaking a language or practising their own culture.  she's not in a position to set up land courts and a voting system designed to alienate a people from their land.  so that wearing of a burqa is a pretty poor attempt by her, and doesn't come anywhere close to what was going on here in times past.

let's not forget another fact: the burqa-wearing woman is a foreign student.  this means that she (or her family or her government) will be paying truckloads of money in order to purchase an education in this country.  it is highly likely that she is from one of those countries where nz education is heavily marketed, where there are important and high-level delegations sent to try to persuade said country to send its student here.  education is a big income earner, and this country, at an official level, has invited foreign students here so that this country can make money from them.

at the very least, if we're going to behave in that way, if we're going to invite them here and charge so much money for providing an education, the least we can do is make sure they are safe while they are here.  that's part of what we're selling when we sell our education.  it means we're accepting them as they are when we ask them to come here, because i'm quite sure no-one who is selling nz education overseas is saying "oh by the way, when you come here, you can't wear a burqa, because when in rome..."

then there's freedom of expression argument, and i've written a whole lot about that as well.  in fact, i've had a pretty robust discussion on facebook today on that particular freedom & what constitutes censorship.  and i'm oh so tired of the people who think freedom of expression is an absolute right that trumps absolutely any other right that anyone might have, in the way that ms rappard so clearly does.

we don't have total freedom of expression in this country because we have broadcasting standards, advertising codes, press council principles.  we have a very weak section of the human rights act around hate speech, and i believe it is still a crime in the crimes act to directly incite violence by way of speech.

but we also have other rights.  as i've already mentioned above, the freedom to practice one's religion (or to not have to practice one at all).  the right to freedom from discrimination.  and certainly the right to be free from harassment and intimidation as you go about your daily business.  i'd say the last one trumps freedom of expression, especially if you're expressing that freedom by getting into someone's face and shouting your opinion at them.  i realise ms rappard denies doing this, but there seems to be more than one witness who is of the view that this is what happened.

so yes, it's a good thing that ms rappard has been convicted and fined.  she hasn't learned anything from this experience though, and relies on the old "PC gone mad" to avoid any responsibility for her own actions or any empathy for the woman she harangued.  but at least the nz justice system has sent the message that this kind of behaviour is not ok, and that is something to be thankful for.

just to finish off, i'm going to recommend this piece that someone linked to on facebook today.  it's pretty long, but very well worth the read.  i can identify with so much of it, having migrated here as a child & feeling very much caught between two cultures and not really fitting in with either one of them.  i'm extremely lucky to not have the experience of war that this writer does, and she writes about all of it so very well.

Monday, 14 October 2013

poverty is political

it's been a while since i've written.  as you know, i've been a little busy with other things.  that didn't work out, so i thought it must be time to get back into blogging again.

one thing i wanted to write about was an event i went to last week.  it was a competition involving students from the school of management studies.  there were 4 groups, and each group presented a media/public relations campaign on behalf of the same client.  the client was poverty action waikato, and the campaigns centred around poverty.

i'd come across two of the groups as i was campaigning.  the "step up, speak now" was campaigning for the living wage, and tied their campaign to the local body elections.  hamilton city council failed to vote for a living wage for all it's employees earlier in the year, and this group based their strategy on a petition and a push for candidates to commit to a living wage.  they had an online strategy that was reasonably successful, and they plan to present their petition at the first meeting of the new council.  this group was really passionate, and they understand that decent wages are a critical part of poverty reduction.

the ten-17 group did a feasibility study around setting up a youth hub in hamilton.  they presented the idea to a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and also used an online campaign.  they want to focus on young people between the ages of 10 & 17 who are facing poverty, homeless or disadvantaged in other ways. it's a great initiative, & i really do hope they continue to work on it.  they did a lot of work in engaging with these young people & collecting their stories.  i felt like they really understood the issues.

a third group was called "not-so-super-annuation".  i hadn't come across them, though they did garner a good amount of media attention.  they were focused on poverty faced by the elderly.  they did a good job of presenting the problem, and they had taken some time to connect with people who were struggling in their retirement.

yet, they didn't seem to understand the underlying causes nor to present a viable solution.  their solution was to educate people, particularly in the 45 to 60 year old age bracket about the importance of saving & investing.  they said people shouldn't be relying on the government and that there was a need for a change in culture.

wow, did i have some major problems with that.  first of all, the retirement commissioner & various others have been doing exactly that.  there has been so much information put out, aimed at exactly that age bracket.  and while the group have actually received interest from the commissioner and others for the work they have done, the solution just doesn't address the problem.

the problem is that so many of the people facing poverty in their old age just weren't earning enough to save.  you can educate them as much as you like, but if they don't have enough income, then saving will not happen. there was no consideration of the issues around unemployment, especially for people who are laid off in their middle age. at that age, it's very difficult to find another job.  and it's also hard to retrain, especially when this government has decided that older students can't access the student loan scheme.  if you're unemployed & struggling, there is no way you can afford to re-train or re-educate yourself.

but more than that, their solution assumes that the answer to poverty reduction lies in individual action. it's the response of a neo-liberal generation, brought up in a culture arising from the policies of the 80s & 90s, that thinks personal responsibility is the solution to all problems.  a generation who hasn't thought about the fact that these problems arise from the way our society is structured and the only way to resolve them effectively is to change the underlying structure.

the thing that worried me most about this group was the fact that they hadn't approached grey power or age concern, because they thought those organisations are too political.  that sound you heard was me screaming!  poverty is political.  it is purely political.  there is enough wealth, enough resources for every person in this country to live a comfortable life.  the issue isn't that we don't have enough, it's that the resources aren't fairly distributed.  the way we choose to distribute those resources, as a society, is a political decision.  the economic structures our society uses are as a result of political decisions.  the way markets, financing, banks, wages, etc etc work in our society is a result of political decisions.  we could choose to do things differently, we could choose to structure our society in a way that neither our children nor our elderly would ever have to struggle for food, decent housing and decent heating.  but we don't, and that's a conscious choice, and a political one.

it doesn't surprise me that this group won the competition.  the reason for that is because they were being judged on the effectiveness of their PR campaign, not on the strength of their analysis or the effectiveness of their solutions.  and there was no doubt that the group had the best results in terms of the reach of the campaign, even if it didn't reach me.

but it was frustrating to watch and listen to.  while the other 2 groups had a much better grasp of effective solutions, a much better connection to the problems and the people facing them, it was clear they were never going to win.  and that's because of the rules of the competition, the structure if you will, that they were working under.  it just shows that how you create the structure and what you develop as your criteria will determine the outcome.  that's why we need to change the rules, the structures, so that the people who are currently struggling so much can live their lives with dignity.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

housing policy becomes a race debate

i'm once again moved to write about non-local government issues, & the thing that has got me going is the new labour party policy regarding the restriction on property ownership by non-residents.

i'm not opposed to the policy itself.  i'd be happy to have such restrictions, to put a curb on speculation by people who never intend to live here.  those people come from countries around the world, they often have enough wealth to drive prices up & making owning a home unaffordable for those of us who are living here.

i'd also like to see some restrictions on local speculators as well.  a capital gains tax is a start, but won't make much of a difference to house prices.  getting to keep 85% of your capital gain is still makes ownership of rental properties a good option.  i'd also like to see ring-fencing of losses on rental properties, so that the loss can't be offset against other income.  but no party is pushing that as a policy at the moment, at least no that i'm aware of.

no, the thing that has annoyed me about the non-resident ownership policy is that it becomes an excuse to bash immigrants - even though the policy is specifically not targeted at immigrants.  and even for those who understand that difference, there is still a tendency to focus on asians to the exclusion of others.

i've written before about the notion of visible & invisible migrants - it's something i became aware of through research conducted by some friends of mine at waikato university.  visible migrants are those of a different skin colour, and very often, the terms "immigrant" & "migrant" are used as synonyms for people of colour living in this country, other than maori.  and even in that group, the terms are even more specifically used to refer to asians, africans, & those from the middle east.

invisible migrants tend to be white people from europe, canada, america, britain, australia & africa (especially south africa & zimbabwe).  when people use the terms "immigrant" & "migrant", they tend not to mean this group of people (not everyone, but many people).  and so this policy, though it applies to non-residents, is taken to mean predominantly chinese & other asian people.  even though they aren't specifically targeted by the policy.

it doesn't help that there are no concrete statistics so that we can know the parts of the world that current non-resident owners come from.  in the absence of actual data, stereotypes prevail.  and such stereotypes are exacerbated by an opposition that wants to turn the whole debate into one about race instead of one about housing, to hide the fact that they have very few policies aimed at making housing more affordable.

as a result, what i've seen, particularly on facebook, are comments directed at various asians, be they chinese, japanese, indonesian or thai, & none of those comments are particularly flattering.  even if they are neutral, the fact that asian non-resident owners are being identified while white non-resident owners remain invisible, in itself creates a racial dimension that is unnecessary & in face harmful.

i believe facebook pages are the responsibility of the people who created them, & i really do expect politicians to be strong on challenging racial stereotypes and challenging the process of making some non-residents more visible than others on their own pages.  to be silent is to be accepting, especially when it's a space that you have total control of.  strong leadership can certainly help to reduce some of the nonsense that's coming out as the discussion goes on - it can't be stopped altogether, but it certainly can be reduced.

it's the least we should be expecting.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

a privileged birth

so it's been a very long while since i posted here, as i was reminded by someone i met at a meeting tonight.  it's not that i haven't been writing posts, it's just that i'm writing them at my website.  so please feel free to check in over there regularly - almost all of those posts are related to either to local body issues or to my campaign, but there are some interesting wider issues that come up as i work on the campaign.

i'm moved to write here today about how much i'm over the birth of the royal baby.  i've been avoiding most media in the last 2 days, particularly any news bulletins on tv & radio.  i just can't bear any more of this coverage.  while i wish the baby & his family well, i can't get into the hype around royalty & privilege by dint of birth.

as many long-standing readers of this blog will be aware, i do have an on-going campaign of sorts, to become the queen of nz.  i can report that two people have agreed to be my subjects.  i'm not sure how many more i'll need before i can displace the foreign royal who is nominally our head of state.  but i can promise fewer scandals, and there certainly will be no baby-having by me.  so you can be a little more confident that your news bulletins would focus more on news than on royal antics, should you accept me as your sovereign.

i think i'm especially annoyed by all of this, because it's happening during ramadan, a time when i've been more focused on the have-nots.  to be continually reminded of just how much the haves have just makes that reflection even sadder.  we can never create a world where everyone is exactly equal, but we can work towards one where there is a lot less inequality, and a lot more financial security for everyone.

one of the ways we could do that is to stop glorifying privilege by having this kind of blanket coverage in the media - & particularly that part of the media that purports to be giving us the news. a 30-second clip is more than sufficient to let us know the baby is well & all family members are overjoyed.  anything more is just free advertising for the commercial enterprise that is the royal family.

if you happen to be one of those people who are of a similar mindset, consider countering all this royal baby news by making a donation to a charity of your choice that deals with issues around poverty.  or, if that's not a possibility, you could consider a submission against the latest changes to our employment laws which will further drive down wages, or consider supporting the living wage campaign.  concrete action is the only way to counter this kind of hype.

Monday, 10 June 2013

on home ownership

i've finally managed to get some time to write about stuff - here's a post over at my website about the hectic weekend i've had.

i was listening to morning report on my way to work & heard this item on home ownership.  it's basically a couple of economists trying to convince us that nz'ers should no longer dream of home ownership.  instead we should be content with renting, although they do tell us that the rental market needs to change so that people can rent for the long-term.  nice of them.

until the rental market changes, what are people supposed to do?  and who exactly are they to be renting from?  in the world these economists are telling us to aspire to, we would have one class of people who get to own property to rent out, and another class of people who would always be renting.  The perpetual tenants are apparently able to build up just as much wealth as the property owners, simply by saving & investing the difference between what they pay in rent & what they would have paid towards a mortgage.

if that's the case, then they would build up enough wealth to buy a house, surely?  so they may as well just own the house they live in.  this is assuming, also, that there are in a position to make savings.  the problem at the moment, the reason why the home-ownership dream is becoming impossible for an increasing number of people, is precisely because they don't have enough left over to save.

but more than that, if you listen to the clip, don't you just love (ie really hate) how they dismiss "emotional" reasons for owning a home.  as if emotions have no value, no basis in logic and reason.  as if emotion is a thing that is divorced from and inferior to rationality.  which is nonsense.  if owning a home has some benefits that are based on emotional reasons, then those reasons will impact on your general feeling of well-being, and therefore your mental health.

a paper by charles waldegrave, robert stevens & peter king (which i can't seem to link to, but you can find a pdf via google), makes the following point:

Home ownership often provides an accruing asset which changes people’s perceptions about themselves in positive and independent ways. It also has the extra advantage of providing freehold ownership in later years when most senior citizens are not part of the work force.

home ownership also has the benefits of providing stability, better educational outcomes for children & better health outcomes.

so what would be the purpose of trying to convince people that they should give up the dream of owning their own home?  it could be to distract from the fact that one of the main barriers to home ownership is income inequality.  it could be to try to get us to accept that nothing can be done to make homes more affordable.  there's always that pressure to make more land available to developers, which you will also hear mentioned in the interview, as if big sprawling cities will solve the home ownership problem.  if you can't afford the transport to get to your job or to decent schools; if there aren't decent amenities & council services, and the cost of these are added to your house, then more land isn't the answer either.

the whole tenor of this piece, and of the advice given by the economists interviewed, was so defeatist.  i found it alarming.  it's when we give up hope & stop agitating for change, when believe things can never get better, that's when the already powerful & wealthy become even more so, and when the lives of those in poverty get worse.  we can do better than this.  it's just a matter of public will, which will then translate to political will.

i've been thinking of bob marley for some reason today, and so i'll leave you with this as inspiration:

Thursday, 6 June 2013

immigration maths

i've been shifting some of my blogging over to my website, so feel free to check it out.  today i've just done a post on the proposed changes to liquor licensing laws in hamilton.

also, i got this from someone on facebook.  it's an excellent takedown of some the anti-immigrant rhetoric that's going around:

Monday, 3 June 2013

how it should be done

i've been trying to take a bit of a break this weekend - not always successfully! - mostly because it's the last long weekend in a long while.  and also because i'm going to be incredibly busy next weekend, so am trying to build up reserves.  i'll be at a leadership seminar on saturday, and on sunday will the be MC'ing at the regional interfaith forum.  if you're able to get along to the latter, please do register by wednesday.  it'll be an interesting event, and we will have the race relations commissioner in attendance.  i'm looking forward to meeting up with her.

i was watching the political debate on native affairs, maori television this evening.  although i can't vote in the by-election, i know one of the candidates reasonably well so i'm quite interested in seeing how the election plays out.  the one thing i can definitely say is that i was very impressed with the way the debate was conducted.

not only was the interviewer/moderator well informed, but she asked really challenging questions of all the candidates. mihingarangi forbes has a quiet but very effective interviewing style.  unlike the interviewers on political shows that air on tv1 & tv3, she doesn't badger the person she's interviewing, she allows them to finish their answer but she doesn't really allow them to get away with not answering.  and when they do evade the question, as the maori party candidate did on the issue of male leadership of the party's political wing, it looked quite bad.

but more than that, i was impressed with the respect the candidates showed each other.  they didn't feel the need to talk over each other, they all listened respectfully when it wasn't their turn to speak.  they all spoke to the issues and the policies, and didn't feel any need to personally attack or denigrate each other.

this is the way political debating should be, and i can only express my utmost respect for the candidates, the interviewer and for maori television who have once again shown us how it can & should be done.  they have also reminded me why i can't bear to watch the nation or Q&A, even though i'm a person who is politically engaged and enjoys watching political issues being debated.  i think the only person who approaches this level on the other channels is john campell, who i have been watching more of in recent weeks.

so well done maori tv, and i'm now looking forward to the one-hour debate on june 24.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

same old story

if you're wondering why i haven't managed to write anything here in the last few days, check out my website & you'll see what's been keeping me busy.

today i've been feeling pretty depressed by the whole cartoon episode.  that would be the two cartoons by al nisbett in the malborough express & the christchurch press.  the ones that uphold every stereotype of poor people as could fit into one drawing, and that put the central focus on brown people.

it's the same old story.  a tried and true formula.  casually used by a wide spectrum of media and particularly the advertising industry.  say something outrageous, sit back & desperately hope for the storm of complaints.  if they do arrive, trot out the usual lines about freedom of speech & how xyz group in society just need to get a sense of humour.  throw in a bit of "PC gone mad", & if really pushed, apologise if anyone took offence (the non-apology that puts the blame squarely on every person but you).  bonus points if you can fit in the words "panty-waisted", "thought police", "pinko-facist", or hey, even "namby-pamby".

if you don't get any takers the first time around, say something more outrageous the next time.  and just keep pushing that boundary until finally the complaints flow.  you know you're guaranteed a large segment of the population who will leap in to defend your right to be obnoxious, without the slightest bit of care towards the already marginalised group you have chosen as your target.  you also know that said marginalised group doesn't have the numbers or the power to seriously challenge you in any way.  and caring about people's feelings has already been accepted by our current cultural norms as a terrible thing to do.

it's a safe strategy for anyone in the media, as long as you know where to toe the line.  where paul henry went wrong was with his timing.  had he made his comments regarding ms dikshit in a week when the commonwealth games weren't about to start, & when another nz'er was already under investigation in india, & when the government was concerned about securing a free-trade deal, then he would easily have got away with it, as he had so many times before.  his producers, you will notice, suffered no negative consequences.

but paul holmes, michael laws, hell pizzas, alcohol advertising companies & so many others carry merrily on, using the strategy to their advantage.  they just can't lose.  neither will the malborough express or the christchurch press.  and mr nisbett won't be out of a job any time soon.

and in the meantime, racist & bigotted stereotypes get more deeply embedded and entrenched in our culture.  lack of basic empathy and humanity get tossed down the gurgler.  and society becomes just that little bit more nasty, more fractured.

if there's an answer to any of this, i haven't found it.  all we can do is to keep challenging the stereotypes, and using our own freedom of speech to try to push back against this wall of hate.  fully knowing that we're playing into the hands of the media that choose to put out this kind of thing as we do so.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

a nice day

i was expecting to have a bit of a quieter weekend, but things don't generally turn out as you expect!

one thing i did this morning was to visit a friend, who i wrote about last month.  well, i have to say that she is doing so much better, and it was lovely to see her happy and improving.  she's out of hospital & in a rest home, and has an aim of getting well enough to go back to her own home.

i would hardly have believed it when i saw her a month ago in hospital, but she told me that she was determined not to accept what the doctors said & to fight for her health.  i expected nothing less of her, which is why she is so dear to me.  it really made my day to see her chatting & laughing.

on a related note, i went to see the film "song for marion" on friday night.  it was such a lovely movie, though really quite heavy with emotion. i felt like the film was sort of played out in my life today as i watched this friend & her husband interacting, and the loving warmth they shared.  people can show their love in such intimate & unexpected ways, even when they don't realise they're doing any such thing.

the "song for marion" theme carried on later in the afternoon when i went to see the GLOW Singers perform.  they did a lovely selection of songs, including in maori, chinese & spanish.  it really tied together the two parts of my day nicely.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

this is unhealthy

i'm not particularly impressed with this suggestion by the waikato district health board (wdhb), to reduce the waiting times at the hospital's emergency department:

Visitors to Waikato Hospital's emergency department could soon be handed leaflets after their consultation, telling them exactly why the reason they were there did not rate as an emergency....

An ongoing struggle to improve the times is being further hindered by the high number of people who could easily have avoided going to the ED, the board was told. 

the reason why the wdhb is concerned about emergency times is this:

Under the Government's health targets programme, each of the country's 20 health boards are set a goal of having 95 per cent of admissions being seen within the six-hour time frame. Waikato DHB sits in joint-last place in the rankings on 86.9 per cent. 

the board knows the reasons why it can't meet its target: overloading.  in fact, one of the board members even goes further and gives an accurate assessment of why this is happening:

Board member Ewan Wilson said he suspected many people would be deterred by the fear of exorbitant weekend surcharges at medical centres, so they headed straight to the hospital.

you would think then, that this board member would have something to say about the provision of affordable after-hours health care.  perhaps he would reinforce the notion that people shouldn't be denied medical attention because they can't afford the basic cost of seeing a GP.  he might have called on the government to rethink the way our health system is catering for those people inconsiderate enough to feel unwell and need a doctors outside of normal GP working hours.

but there is none of that.  instead, he thinks the wdhb "just need to get harder".  in other words, they should discourage people from using the hospital's emergency department, without any concern about where they might go.  many of those turned away would just not be able to afford the weekend rates at accident & emergency clinics, even with a community services card. there will be those who don't qualify for a card but are unable to afford the added up charges of a consultation and medicines.

and if these people don't see a doctor within a reasonable timeframe, they could end up back in emergency & might need hospitalisation because their condition has deteriorated.  so really, not much will have changed.

there are also issues here about excessive profits being made by private providers of accident & emergency care.  yes, they are providing a vital service, but i have a reasonable idea of the level of profits that are being made here, and i object to vulnerable people who really have very few options being forced to fork out on high fees just so these centres can make massive profits.  again, it's not like they had a choice in being unwell - if they had any choice in the matter, i'm sure they would have chosen a much more convenient time.

i believe in universal, affordable public health care.  i believe that access to health care is the right of every person in the country.  and while i agree that doctors have the right to earn a decent living, i can't support excessive profits.  especially because that is money that could be put back into the health system to provide better services for people who need it.

we already know that the most impoverished people suffer from the worst health problems.  if anything, the wdhb should be thinking of ways to get these people into the health system at the earliest possible stage of their illness.  i appreciate they are constrained by government targets and government funding, but at the very least, they should be lobbying the government to change the system instead of trying to shame the sick people who turn up on their doorstep.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

hamilton city adopts a living wage policy

i've been making some steady progress on my campaign over the last couple of days.  i have now set up a facebook page for my campaign, and you can find a policy document there which sets out the my position on various issues.  that document was developed by a group of people who have a similar vision for our city.

a couple of weeks ago, i recorded this video giving a bit of background about myself & talking about why i'm standing for council:

it's a bit longer than i intended, but then i always have so much to say - hence the blogging!

as a reminder of why political activity and activism is so important, the hamilton city council has made a decision today to adopt the living wage policy.  it means that 80 council staff (about 10% of the total) will be remunerated adequately for their labour.  this move will make hamilton the first city in nz to adopt the policy, and i'm really glad that our council has pushed ahead with it.

the policy will be phased in over two years.  at this stage it only applies to direct employees, and the next step is to have the policy applied to those employed by contractors hired by council.  this kind of policy really makes a difference to people's lives - not just those 80 who will be affected, but also to the businesses where they will spend their money, thereby circulating more money through the economy.

not only that but it will hopefully have the effect of increasing wages in other sectors of the economy as well.  with private companies like the warehouse adopting the policy for permanent staff, we might yet have work valued in the way that it should be.

i'm heartened by the fact that 8 councillors supported the policy, with only 5 voting against.  that makes it a strong statement by council, and it's a pity that the mayor was so much against it.  i really hope this indicative of the feeling around the country regarding this policy.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

the budget & democracy

so, the budget.  there's a lot to say, but i really like selwyn manning's summary at the daily blog.  and keith ng's work is, as usual, exceptionally good.  it's not a budget that is going to solve any underlying problems in the economy.  it's not a budget that will reduce income inequality, produce more jobs, or relieve poverty.  while it was really good to see funding go towards home insulation & rheumatic fever, these are only dealing with symptoms & not causes.

if you want to really solve those things, make sure people get decent wages, so that they can afford decent housing & they no longer suffer from the diseases related to poverty.  i attended a human rights workshop today, and as part of the workshop, we talked about issues that needed to be resolved in nz society & the rights that were most important to us.

the most important rights to this group were:
 - the right to life & to physical safety
 - freedom from discrimination
 - the right to democratic participation

the next most important was the right to work.  for me, this is a crucial one, because the issues around housing, education, health & social cohesion tend to be resolved when people have a job that pays enough for them to live comfortably.  crime is reduced, many health issues (including mental health) are reduced.

and for me, democratic participation is one of the most crucial ways that citizens of a country can ensure that their right to work is protected.  not only the right to have a job that pays decent wages, but also to working reasonable hours with sufficient breaks, and decent health & safety practices.  the right to democratic participation allows communities the power to determine how their communities develop.

there has been a significant attack on democratic rights over the 5 years.  the most obvious is the use of urgency by parliament or the shortening of submission periods for bills that manage to get to select committee stage.  this means that legislation is constantly being rushed through parliament, without sufficient consultation, so that the effects aren't well understood, and so that people don't have much of a chance to protest or to lobby for changes.

but more than that, there have been significant attacks on the powers of local government, with a restriction on what local bodies can or can't do.  the amalgamations of local government, starting with auckland and intended to roll across the country, means that local communities are losing power.  then there is the fact that environment canterbury hasn't been allowed to have elections since this government came into power, and the rebuild of christchurch has also been suffering because of the removal of democratic processes.

today's budget had yet another attack on democracy.  there is a budget provision which will allow central government to over-ride local government should the latter not free up enough land for housing.  so local communities will no longer be allowed to decide if they want to reduce urban sprawl and manage their housing needs in a way that doesn't require long commutes, expensive roading, and all the other additional costs of maintaining a larger space.

i find this appalling and incredibly depressing that the government can take away our powers of self-determination, the right to be consulted and to make decisions about our local environment.  we deserve much better than this.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

disney: being brave is not enough anymore

i've put my blogging energy towards a post at the hand mirror tonight, about the proposed changes to a disney character that turns a strong, independent young woman into a more sexualised trophy figure.  hope you'll take a few mintues to sign the petition.

Monday, 13 May 2013

hillcrest park guardians

i went to a council hearing today to support the "hillcrest park guardians" group, who are seeking increased council funding for a playground.  on the surface, it seemed to be a pretty small and localised issue, but it ended up being quite interesting.

the guardians are a group that got together initially because of the way the park was being used.  local high school students would often gather there and have fights.  it wasn't particularly welcoming. so they started organising events there, and getting the community more involved with the park.

they've been pretty successful with that - i was there yesterday for the "hillcrest park youth festival", largely organised by young people.  there was music, food, nail polish, and with the beautiful weather, plenty of people having a good time.  another example of young people contributing to their community, and being positive role-models for all of us really.  there are plenty of older people who could learn a thing or 2 from these teenagers.

a good park becomes a place of community - a place where neighbours meet & get to know each other.  a sense of community that seems to be so much lacking these days, with the push for individual responsibility.  not that i'm against the latter, more against the idea that the latter is the only thing that matters, and that we're losing that sense of also being responsible for and caring for each other.

this particular group has also helped to create that sense of community through their activism.  they gathered 500 signatures on a petition, and presented to council today, well backed up with facts and figures.  they didn't just ask for more funding, they showed where that money could come from within existing budgets.  essentially, there's another park very close to this one which has received almost 3 times the funding of hillcrest park, and the guardians are asking that proposed funding for that park be diverted to this one, given that the other park has had extensive development and maintenance in recent years.

what was particularly inspiring to me today was the participation of young  children in the presentation to council.  they looked to be over 5 years old, and the presentation began with a child of around 10 years old giving a speech about what the park meant to him.  the other kids were holding signs with pictures showing the current state of the playground & the park.  i thought it was wonderful for these children to have practical experience of how their democratic system works, and i hope it inspires them in the future.

i was appalled to hear that earlier that day, the property council had submitted that parks should be sold & privatised, and more of the lands used for parks be opened up for housing development.  aside from the health implications for the city, it showed such a callousness towards community and community spaces.

and funnily enough, even though one speaker had clearly and simply explained where the funding would come from, councillor roger hennebry still felt the need to say there wasn't money available for the extension and upgrade of the playground.  he would have been better off addressing the equity issues around one park getting much more funding than the other.

i'll await with interest the outcome on this.  i think the group made some extremely good points and presented their case well.

Friday, 10 May 2013


i've had an interesting experience in writing letters to the editor lately.  i've written before on the frankton markets, and there seems to be a positive resolution to that situation.  forlongs have been in negotiations and it looks like the markets are here to stay.

i attended the emergency council meeting on the issue, and managed to speak to a couple of stall-holders.  they were people who were just trying to make a reasonable living in a difficult economic environment.  so i wasn't too pleased to see a letter from tania hennebry , trustee of WEL energy trust & past council candidate, implying that these were people who were dodging taxes.  it was a particularly negative letter, full of aspersions but with no evidence whatsoever.

it moved me enough to write that she should get to know these people, and that marginalised people are more in need of advocacy than those who have the power and ability to use the legal and institutional processes in their own favour.  having seen previous letters from ms hennebry, i was expecting an angry response.  however, i wasn't expecting that she would use her position as a trustee of WEL energy trust to attack me.

here's what she says, towards the end of a pretty long letter:

Ms Rahman states "she will not be an advocate for these people, but prefers to side with those who don't need her advocacy at all".  This is rather rich, considering she has benefitted from my advocacy in the past when seeking community funding from the WEL Energy Trust.  Her judgement speaks volumes!

wow.  the fact is that i've never personally benefitted as a trustee of any organisation.  i've never taken a cent, not even petrol money.  it's a nasty implication.  but i really had to laugh when she finishes with this gem:

There is an ugliness which rears its head at election time and doesn't belong in the Hamilton I knew and loved.

it's just the sheer shamelessness of having this sentence immediately follow the preceding paragraph i quoted, and following a previous letter where she attacked stall-holders without evidence.  although, from so many years of blogging, i should be used to people who make comments without logic or consistency, but i'm still surprised when i see something as blatant as this.

i'm sure i'll be getting a lot more of this as the months progress.  that's the danger of speaking out, but i really couldn't let ms hennebry's first letter go unchallenged.  i'm certainly not interested in responding in kind.  it's just not who i am.  i think political discourse and debate needs to move well beyond this level, and one can only lead by example  so i've written another letter this evening making clear i've not received any personal benefits from WEL energy trust funding, and then gone on to talk about the issue of development of student accommodation in residential areas.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

RIP dr mike hills

i went to a funeral today.  another labour party stalwart. another man named michael.  it's almost a year since i wrote about michael robyns, a lovely man who gave generously of his time and money.  and today i write about michael donald hills, known to us as mike, or more commonly as mikeandmarylyn because he & his wife were so close & they did so many things together.

and again, as i did with the funeral last year, i came to realise how one-dimensional my knowledge of mike was.  i knew him from the labour party and many a meeting we attended together, many an event we worked on.  i knew him as a friend and a neighbour - mike & marylyn live on the same street and we would sometimes go to meetings together in an effort to carpool.  i knew he was well-regarded in his career as a psychologist working at the university of waikato.  i knew he was a father and grandfather, from the many trips he took to visit his grandchildren or the times when they came to stay.

but these latter things, while i knew of them, were things i didn't witness myself and so they didn't really form part of the of the picture, as it were, of the person i knew.  it was more a theoretical knowledge rather than a practical one.  but today, hearing from his family and friends, and from work colleagues, we got a much fuller picture of how much he meant to so many people.

i didn't know he suffered from epilepsy, although i knew he belonged to an international body that advocates for epilepsy.  i hadn't realised the depth of his involvment both locally and internationally:

Frank Gouveia, Epilepsy New Zealand’s Chief Executive said; “Dr Hills involvement with Epilepsy New Zealand goes back to the 1970’s. Mike was instrumental in shaping New Zealand’s provision of epilepsy information and support services, and in 1979 he undertook a survey on epilepsy in the Waikato area which resulted in the initiation and development of the Field Officer service for Epilepsy New Zealand. It is this unique service that formed the basis of Epilepsy New Zealand’s service delivery to people with epilepsy and the New Zealand community, and one which we are proud to say is still used to this day”.

At the time of his death Mike was a current Board Member of Epilepsy New Zealand; Executive Committee Member of the New Zealand League Against Epilepsy; and Chair of Elections Task Force for the International Bureau for Epilepsy.

you can get more of a sense of what he meant to the IBE by reading the book of condolences on their website. i don't think i can bear to read it today, but i know it will say things i do already know about mike.  that he was someone who was always ready to work for others, he gave generously of his time & was just as happy working in the background with little recognition. he was thoughtful & very intelligent, and so was of as much value in an in-depth policy discussion as he was in organising a garage sale.

today i learnt that mike was not only a member of the council of elders, he was also the chairperson.  those who knew him from that organisation spoke similarly of his generosity and his competence.

so tonight i'm going to mourn the loss of, as someone described him at the service, a good man. rest in peace, mike.

Monday, 6 May 2013


i want you to read this story that appears on the front page of this morning's waikato times.  you don't have to read the whole thing, just the first half is sufficient.  i'm wondering if you notice what i notice.

the story is about some houses being built in a residential area, and the neighbours fearing the houses will be used for student accommodation.  it's a valid concern.  as the story says: "In residential areas, a residential centre or hostel would require resource consent."  of course, one of the main concerns of the neighbours is the potential drop in property values if apartments start springing up in the neighbourhood.  it's fair enough to be worried about issues of congestion.  the excess rubbish, though?  rubbish gets picked up on rubbish collection day & until then will stay inside the property.

notice how i have covered the main issue, and i could have written that whole article, without once having used the word "chinese".  but this article has that word in it twice, once in relation to the developers and the second time in relation to the potential students who might be renting the home.

i fail to understand how ethnicity is at all relevant to this whole issue.  i can't imagine what difference it would make if the students were chinese or any other ethnicity, in terms of the issue of congestion or excess rubbish.  but would the property values go down faster if they were chinese students as opposed to those of european heritage?  is the provision of housing to chinese students a worse crime than letting to other ethnicities.

similarly, i fail to understand why the ethnicity of the developer is any way relevant to the story.  it's yet another example of the threat of yellow peril.  another example of where ethnicity is used, when it definitely wouldn't have been had the developer had european heritage.  it's yet another example of the use of ethnicity to create a narrative, an othering that is completely unnecessary.

the whole issue of student housing is especially relevant to me as i've just been dealing with a similar case last week.  a couple came to visit me last friday with exactly the same situation but in an entirely different neighbourhood.  they live down a shared right of way, and the owner of the neighbouring property is altering the home in  what looks like a similar manner.  while the owners claim that the home will be rented to 2 families at the most, the rental they have advertised in the local school newspaper is way beyond what can be expected from that kind of property.  it only makes sense if the property is rented out to students or single working people.

for the couple that came to see me, the main issues are around traffic.  there isn't enough room on their neighbours property to fit more than 2 cars & the shared driveway with increased traffic puts their very young children at risk.  it would be impossible for cars to get out of the neighbours property without backing onto their own property.  congestion is definitely an issue.

this couple explained all this to me, and i don't know (though i'm sure they do) the ethnicity of the owner, nor was their any talk about the ethnicity of potential tenants.  maybe because they saw my brown face and thought better of it, or more likely because it just. didn't. matter.  the issues are serious enough without having to put in a "scary" ethnicity component to try to make it sound worse.

i'll be keeping an eye on the situation as regards the couple that came to see me, and doing what i can to help them.  i just wish our media could stick to the issues and stop with the unnecessary ethnic othering.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

a sad day

another sad day today as i've just heard of the passing of someone i know from the labour party.  he lived up the road from me, and has been struggling with his health over the last year or so.  but this news has been unexpected.  i also feel for his wife, who must inconsolable this evening.

in light of this news, i hardly feel able to write much today.  i'll just share a couple of bits of news.  first is that the ombudsman has ruled that hamilton city councillors will have to go public with their financial interests, so this information will be published soon.  i see this as a positive development: any conflicts of interest should be out in the open and people should be able to see for themselves any potential bias in councillors' statements & voting patterns.  incidentally, if you haven't caught up with the series over at the standard regarding vested interests of those commenting publicly on the nzpower strategy, please do head on over there to read about it.  this is exactly the kind of information that needs to be publicly highlighted, even before these people open their mouths to speak.

the second bit of news is that the frankton market has been saved, after negotiations with terry forlongs.  i haven't seen the news in the media yet, but the "save frankton markets" facebook page has the latest.  it's good to see a positive outcome, which is no doubt as a result of community action - collective action at that.

and one final thought: it's may day today & it's appalling that the government chose this day to reduce youth wages.  it's an appallingly unfair policy, discriminating on the basis of age rather than any measurement of ability, motivation and productivity.  it's just another way in which our society shows how little we value our younger people.  and no, it won't have any effect on unemployment: every young person who gets hired so that an employer can save on paying wages means another older person out of work and on benefits.  once again, it's a way of privatising the benefits and socialising the costs.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

welcoming the afghani refugees

after a sad post yesterday, i thought i'd write about something a little more positive today.  there has been a lot of coverage in the news lately about the refugees who have recently arrived from afghanistan.  they worked as interpreters for the nz defence force, and 80 families have been brought to live here.

the thing that has struck me most about this is the favourable media coverage.  all the stories i've seen have a very personal touch, with stories and pictures of some of the families.  i can't find the clip (because i can't remember which channel it's on) where a husband & wife were interviewed on their reaction to nz - well, the wife didn't actually speak because she didn't feel confident about her english.  but we get to hear directly from these people, to hear their words and so to relate to them as people.

i guess the reason why this struck me is that it's different to the usual narratives we hear about refugees and asylum seekers in the media. much of the coverage is around politicians seeking to gain attention, and particularly of late, around changes made by this government around asylum seekers laws.  not to mention mr key's little stunt while julia gillard was here recently, offering to take more refugees from australia, but at the expense of others who would have been part of our 750 quota.

as part of the political rhetoric, we get to hear of refugees and asylum seekers as queue jumpers, or we have the drummed up fear of invasion (by boat, no less) and all manner of ills to be caused by an inflood of refugees.  we then have the radio talkback crowd & their internet equivalent who show nothing more than contempt for people who have come through some incredibly harrowing experiences, very often fearing for their lives.  there is a whole heap of resentment, even it seems, for the very food that goes into their mouths.

so in that context, this has been a refreshing change, and i wonder what impression it has been creating in the minds of those who resent the fact that we have to take any refugees at all.  i hope there is some positive impact, some change in the cultural mood, and a high level of acceptance across the board for refugees and asylum seekers who come to this country.

at this point i do want to acknowledge that whole sector of our society who welcome and support refugees.  there are many, many volunteers who give their time up to help refugees resettle and who act as mentors & support people.  their work is invaluable, their generosity truly humbling.  i wish we could hear and see more about these people in our media, but i guess they aren't considered particularly newsworthy.

a final point: i'm pretty sure the positive coverage has very much to do with the nz defence force & their PR team.  it has all the hallmarks of the NZDF PR machine, and the particular people chosen to speak on behalf of the group seems to have a pre-planned thing.  it's good to see the machinery of the state being used to support this very vulnerable group of people.  it would be nice if that machinery and the politicians who are responsible for running it could provide similar support & positive PR for all the others who come to our country seeking refuge.