Government under-delivery continues with ‘dismal’ social welfare tweaks

The Government year of under-delivery continued last week with an announcement of social welfare reforms tweaks being buried on Friday afternoon when it would have been anticipated that most news coverage would have been of Pike River mine re-entry – which also didn’t deliver.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson sounds deflated and resigned to under-delivery this term at least.

Yes I affirmed that these first steps and changes have come too late for too many.

I know change is long overdue, and people deserve support now. Can guarantee I’m committed to that change and the hard work it requires. It’s right people demand we just sort this out asap.

Sue Bradford:

“The government’s response to the findings of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) is dismal.”

A Welfare Expert Advisory Group was set up with an expectation it would report back with transformative reforms – which it did, with 42 recommendations. But the Government announcement on Friday indicated that only one of these would be implemented straight away, and another two would have to wait another year. And these are really only relatively minor tweaks.

In the 2017 election campaign the Green Party nearly died in a ditch when  co-leader Metiria Turei launched a major promotion for social welfare reform by revealing her experiences with claiming more benefits than she was eligible for. Support for the Green Party slumped.

Turei resigned and the Greens survived the election, but their number of MPs dropped from 14 to 8, and their share of the vote dropped from10.7% to 6.3%. They managed to negotiate their way into Government with Labour, but outside of Cabinet, and with what have turned out to be vague commitments. On social welfare the Confidence & Supply Agreement states:

Fair Society

10. Overhaul the welfare system, ensure access to entitlements, remove excessive sanctions and review Working For Families so that everyone has a standard of living and income that enables them to live in dignity and participate in their communities, and lifts children and their families out of poverty.

In April 2018 Marama Davidson was appointed as the new female co-leader of the Greens – Marama Davidson wins Green Party co-leadership race

She spoke about winning back voters who the Green Party had lost to Labour in the 2017 election – but also reaching out to new voters from her own background in poorer communities.

“In order to be a genuine and relevant voice for modern Aotearoa, we need to reflect its diverse reality. We need more members from all backgrounds and communities,” Davidson said.

“I know what it is to struggle to find a home to rent. I know what it is to not have enough food for your tamariki. And I know that no parent should have to go through that.”

“The community I come from is at the coalface of the most pressing issues we face as a society: rising poverty and inequality, the housing and homelessness crisis, polluted rivers and poor health and education outcomes.”

She said a massive economic shift was needed to a system that put the wellbeing of people and the environment above simple GDP growth.

Co-leader James Shaw said Davidson’s campaign had “lit a wildfire through the party.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called Davidson to congratulate her.

“The Green Party is a valued confidence and supply partner of this Government and I look forward to working with Marama to build a stronger, fairer and more inclusive country,” Ardern said.

“I am sure our work will be strengthened with the addition of Marama Davidson helping to leading this important work alongside me, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, and Green Co-leader James Shaw.”

It looks like Davidson has not strengthened much if anything on social welfare reform.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) was established in May 2018, with twelve ‘experts’ appointed. The Terms of Reference stated:

1. …It is timely at this critical juncture to evaluate whether our social welfare system remains fit for purpose in contemporary New Zealand.

2. The Government’s vision is for a welfare system that ensures people have an adequate income and standard of living, are treated with and can live in dignity and are able to participate meaningfully in their communities.

Objective

5. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (the WEAG) is being established to provide advice to the Government on options that could best give effect to its vision for the future direction of the social welfare system.

They delivered their Report to the Minister for Social Development on 26 February 2019.

On Friday afternoon (3 May 2019) the Government announced that “its vision for the future direction of the social welfare system” would amount to a few minor tweaks.

Marama Davidson’s initial response promoted just one of the tweaks:

The Confidence and Supply Agreement between the and commits to removing excessive sanctions. This starts with today’s announcement.

In response to comments on Twitter she acknowledged the failure to deliver urgent reform.

Davidson:

I know change is long overdue, and people deserve support now. Can guarantee I’m committed to that change and the hard work it requires. It’s right people demand we just sort this out asap.

She sounds disappointed and deflated.

Sue Bradford (The Spinoff): No hope for progressive welfare reform from this government

The government’s response to the findings of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) is dismal.

It appears the only substantive welfare reform we can expect during this parliamentary term is the removal of the financial sanction against sole parents who can’t or won’t name their child’s father. That’s great, but that’s it.

Both Labour and the Greens went into the 2017 election promising the elimination of this sanction. It could have been axed as soon as they took power. Instead, it is now clear that the government has deliberately delayed action until the WEAG reported back, just so they could point to at least one reform of substance after the expenditure of $2 million on the working group.

The sole parent sanction won’t be removed until April next year, and the Government has confirmed there will be no backdating.

…I am so angry that this government has not had the courage of any convictions in responding to the WEAG’s heartfelt mahi.

We are seeing the weakest possible response to the WEAG’s sterling efforts. There is no commitment to any significant change during this parliamentary term. To talk about transforming welfare in three, five or 10 years as Sepuloni does is simply meaningless.

Any beneficiary expecting a sudden onset of empathy from this government can forget about that, apart from those who will directly benefit from the ending of the naming-father sanction.

None of the existing lot are going to do anything serious. It would require a kind of courage and commitment not in evidence when it comes to standing up for the rights and wellbeing of beneficiaries. The Greens have a legacy of fine welfare policies and Marama Davidson and others do seriously support the kind of recommendations made by the WEAG. However,  this is not backed up by the practice of the Greens in this term of Parliament, near-silenced in their role as support party, and with a tendency to skitter away from hard battles under any kind of pressure.

That’s scathing of the Government, but especially scathing of Bradford’s own Green Party (she may have ditched them now but was an MP and stood for leadership in the past).

If we’re ever going to hope for transformative and progressive welfare reform, it is now clear it will need to be championed by a party that is not yet in Parliament.

There is no sign of such a party, so it not just a dismal under-delivery, the outlook for social welfare reform looks dismal.

 

 

 

Is a referendum the best way to deal with cannabis law reform?

In theory letting the people decide on whether we liberalise our drug laws in relation to cannabis via a referendum sounds like a good democratic approach, but is it actually the best way to deal with it?

One problem is that our politicians do not have experience or a good history of letting the people decide. The flag debate and referendums were a shambles, in large part due to how our politicians stuffed things around.

Benedikt Fischer (Hugh Green Foundation Chair in Addiction Research and Professor, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, at the University of Auckland) looks at the cannabis issue –  NZ’s potential cannabis policy pitfalls

In New Zealand, the prospects of fundamental liberalising reform to cannabis prohibition are heading into an acute phase. In recent months, the Government has provided incremental clarification that the issues will be decided on through a public referendum to occur on general election day in 2020. Based on recent statements by the Prime Minister, this referendum will be based on a question on possible cannabis control reform to be drafted by Cabinet.

While a referendum is a legitimate means of decision-making on public policy, and has been applied in areas of drug control elsewhere, it is an approach that comes with distinct dynamics in terms of process – regardless of where one sits on the ‘opinion fence’.

Without question, dealing with cannabis control reform through a referendum is an unusual choice in the socio-political context of New Zealand, where few policy issues have been decided by direct democracy. Rather, New Zealand routinely develops or changes law or policy, including on many no-less fundamental or controversial topics, by relying on the standard procedures of its parliamentary democracy.

What makes cannabis control so unique or different that it requires such a special approach?

Our politicians have avoided addressing dysfunctional drug laws for decades. They have been sort of forced into doing something, but may see a referendum as a way of either sabotaging the process. CGT policy was dumped without going to an election with it as promised.

Yet irrespective of these general queries, and embracing the possible benefits of direct decision-making on cannabis legalisation ‘by the people’, there are various issues or possible pitfalls to consider.

First, in order for a referendum on cannabis reform to work and produce meaningful results, it needs to occur on the basis of a concise and clear question. This question, however, requires comprehensive foundational clarity regarding what overall cannabis reform plan the Government exactly intends to propose and implement. And this involves many devils hidden in many details.

For example, a legalisation model in which cannabis use, availability, production and product, advertising, etcetera, are only loosely regulated is very different from one where these essential parameters are tightly controlled and restricted.

One of several key challenges here will be to clearly convey the difference between ‘decriminalisation’ and ‘legalisation’ reforms for cannabis. Notwithstanding many – including leading politicians – viewing and using these concepts as if interchangeable, they are fundamentally different: While the former typically softens the punitive consequences for illegal drug use or sales, and commonly relies on ‘diversion’ measures like education or treatment programs, it retains their formal illegality. In contrast, ‘legalisation’ renders use and availability truly legal in principle, and relies mainly on regulatory measures for control and restrictions.

Public referenda, especially on controversial value issues with implications for society at large, like drug control, can be tricky undertakings.

But why are they tricky? Politicians have a habit of making things seem tricky when they don’;t want to take responsibility and do anything. I hope they surprise me, but I fear that the public will end up being manipulated and let down.

A referendum gives our politicians scope for messing up the decision making and then handing the blame to voters.

Consultation on education reform

The Government is proposing major changes to how schools are administered.

From December:  Minister wants ‘wider discussion’ on proposed schooling changes

The Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce is proposing significant changes to the way our schools are run, governed, and managed to ensure every student receives the best quality education in future, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

“The next four and half months until April 7, 2019 provides opportunity for the wider public discussion we are seeking.

“Now is the chance for all New Zealanders to have their say on building a schooling system that meets the needs of all students, educators and parents, and that is fit for purpose for the 21st century.

“The Taskforce will lead the consultation, and report on the results. The Government will make decisions on implementing the review in mid-2019,” Chris Hipkins said.

A full copy of Our Schooling Futures: Stronger Together | Whiria Ngā Kura Tūātinitini is available here.

There is alternative consultation going on.

Big Read (NZH): One night with the man who could change all your children’s futures

Bali Haque’s got the electricity of a preacher. He’s an education evangelist with a fire in his eyes.

“We have a world class education system,” says the academic-principal-teacher leading the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce.

He’s on the road, from the south of the country to the north and back again, telling people why this “world class education system” needs to become something completely different.

The reason?

“In this country, we have a really significant issue with equity,” he says.

Haque is speaking in the Kerikeri High School library, the Far North’s centre of relatively comfortable affluence where citizens know all about equity. They are well aware they enjoy a life different from the abject poverty which eats at the heart of almost all Far North towns.

The gap between poor and rich has grown to a chasm. School is one place where foundations are laid to bridge that gap.

“The gap between best performing and least-well performing is large. And it is stubborn.”

And there’s the problem. The 1989 promise of former Prime Minister David Lange’s
Tomorrow’s Schools has not been realised. Our 2500 parent-led schools have developed a host of different answers to the question every child poses, which is: Who is the best person you can be?

He tells the 30 people in the audience: “We are good at innovation but have a problem with scaling up, or sustaining innovation.”

And so, if we are to have an education revolution – this biggest school shake up in 30 years – then it needs to happen in a way which lasts.

“It’s our view one of the reasons we have this stubborn gap is the system we are working in.”

Having listed his Five Great Truths, Haque is off and painting a picture with words of a new system of schooling.

These meetings are happening across New Zealand this month and next. By the time they have finished, Haque and the other four people on the Taskforce will have given or heard this talk 33 times, from New Plymouth on Valentine’s Day to Palmerston North on March 27.

There are around 800,000 children in our primary-through-secondary education system. If Haque gets his way, these changes will have a dramatic effect on how they are educated, and how their children will be educated.

Haque hasn’t just redesigned our school system. He’s drafting a fresh blueprint for our future.

And yet, there are just 30 people in the Kerikeri High School library. Of those, 25 people are teachers or Board of Trustee members. Only five – including this reporter – are parents of children at school.

For such a monumental upheaval, is this really consultation?

A big read follows that.

National’s Nikki Kaye is also going around the country consulting – National to hold 40 education public meetings

“The meetings will be jointly hosted by myself and the local National MPs, some members of National’s Education Caucus will also be in attendance. I plan to attend all of the 40 meetings.

“National has also welcomed a request by the Chair of the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce, Bali Haque, to have some of the taskforce or officials attend some of our meetings as part of their own public consultation process.

“National want to ensure that the 19,000 trustees on school boards and hundreds of thousands of parents have the opportunity to have a good understanding of the proposals. To ensure this we will be providing factual information on the changes as well as seeking feedback.

More from the Big Read:

Last year, Hipkins stressed to Cabinet the importance of “public consultation”. It was this, he said, what he would bring to Cabinet before “decisions on a Government response” to the taskforce recommendations.

He wouldn’t be interviewed about the timeframe, but said through a spokesman he was happy with the level of consultation.

The Bali Haque Roadshow set off for Whangārei, and then further south. They will soon be in a town near you. If you have children, you need to go to these meetings. Not just for their sake but for the children they will have.

Haque and his cohort of revolutionaries will change education for generations.

And if you do go to a meeting, you will hear him say: “Education reform in New Zealand we don’t do well.”

A list of meetings:

The education road show

East Auckland: February 28, 4pm and 7pm at Bailey Road School.

Queenstown: March 4, 7pm at the Crowne Plaza.

Hamilton: March 5, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Taupō: March 6, 7pm, Taupo-nui-a-Tia College.

Gisborne: March 6, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Napier/Hastings: March 7, 7pm, William Colenso College.

Wellington: March 11, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Porirua: March 12, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Lower Hutt: March 13, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Masterton: March 14, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Rotorua: March 18, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Tauranga: March 19, 7pm, Tauranga Boys’ College.

South Auckland: March 20, 4pm and 7pm, Papatoetoe High School.

West Auckland: March 21, 4pm and 7pm, The Trusts Arena.

Central Auckland: March 21, 7pm, Freemans Bay School.

Nelson: March 25, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Greymouth: March 26, 5.30pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Whanganui: March 26, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

Palmerston North: March 27, 7pm, location yet to be confirmed.

More from NZ Herald:

• Bali Haque: Tomorrows Schools review must deal with the market’s failure
• Tomorrow’s Schools meeting: Teachers speak out against Bali Haque’s plan
• Biggest education shake-up in 30 years proposed
• ‘Stalinist’ or ‘exciting’: Battle begins over radical school reforms

Some principals ‘furious’ over proposal for radical education restructuring

Radical change will usually annoy some people, and so it seems with some school principals over the proposal to radically change the way schools are administered.

The reform was announced just as schools were closing down for the year.

Stuff:  Furious principals warn education reforms will ‘destroy the school system in New Zealand as we know it’

Furious principals say they will march on Parliament in protest at the most radical restructuring in 30 years, saying the proposals will destroy schooling as New Zealand knows it.

The proposal to relieve school boards of responsibility for property, HR and financial management is the one that has been most warmly-greeted by the Government. Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the report reflected what he often heard from schools: that boards felt ill-equipped to manage property, especially when problems such as leaky buildings cropped up.

The School Trustees Association and Principal’s Federation have offered cautious support to centralising some of those responsibilities. And this week, Manawatū Principals’ Association president Wayne Jenkins said boards of trustees faced “huge” responsibilities, and he welcomed a re-evaluation on their role.

But at some of the bigger secondary schools, especially in Auckland, anger is mounting. In this week’s strongly-worded attack, Macleans College principal Steven Hargreaves wrote to parents and staff in the holidays to say the proposed changes would “destroy the school system in New Zealand as we know it”.

Hargreaves joined other heads, including Auckland Grammar’s Tim O’Connor, in revolting against the proposals.

Taking power away from boards would create “bland, one-size-fits-all” institutions and destroy the role of communities in schools, Hargreaves said.

He called on parents to oppose the recommendations and said parents had already been quick to voice their backing for him.

Over the summer break, schools would be picking over the report in detail and identifying the key issues, Hargreaves said. A parents’ information evening would be scheduled in February and from there they would aim to get traction through the board of trustees and local MPs.

Hargreaves said he was ready to “descend on Parliament” with other principals if necessary.

This weekend, Bali Haque, chairman of the Tomorrow’s Schools taskforce, emphasised there could be scope for hubs to hand responsibilities back to boards.

Haque said there was no intention in the report to take away the “critical jobs” boards currently have.

Boards would retain control over teaching at their schools, the locally-raised funds, and receive a veto or final approval over their principal’s appointment if the taskforce’s recommendations are adopted.

It looks like a lot of consultation is required here.

The Government and Minister of Education Chris Hipkins have already had to try to deal with teacher unions campaigning for substantially improved pay and and staffing levels.

Former National minister to head justice advisory reform group

In what I think is a smart move Minister of Justice Andrew Little has appointed former National MP Chester Borrows to head a criminal justice reform advisory group.

Borrows was a police officer before getting a law degree and practicing as a lawyer before becoming an MP, and served a term as Minister of Courts, so looks to have a good background.

RNZ: Chester Borrows to head criminal justice advisory reform group

Mr Little said Mr Borrows was the obvious choice to chair the group because of his experience in the justice sector.

“I was keen to have Chester on board because of his background as a former frontline police officer, prosecuting sergeant and then later as a defence counsel after he got his law degree.

“He knows the political system, he was a minister outside cabinet, he was a deputy speaker of parliament – he brings a good understanding of the political process as well.”

Mr Little will announce the other members of the advisory group later today.

He said his advice to them was to be “bold” and “courageous” with their recommendations while drawing on experience, science and data.

“We should all be incredibly concerned at a reoffending rate of those in prison of 60 percent within two years of release – that to me is a failure.”

Borrows says that he never liked the three strikes law and was forced to vote for it by the party whipping system.

In his first interview ahead of Justice Minister Andrew Little announcing the group later today, Mr Borrows has blamed political parties’ self-interest in staying in power for the lack of progress in law and order reform.

An example was the three strikes law introduced by National and ACT under the previous government, which Mr Borrows said National never supported but was introduced to appease their confidence and supply partner.

“Three strikes was never part of National’s plan, it came up as a political move because they needed a confidence and supply partner and that was it. I never liked it, I sent that back.

“Unfortunately it was a party vote and you fall under the whip on those occasions and that’s what happened.”

The reality of party politics.

Many of the problems facing the criminal justice sector today were the same issues Mr Borrows dealt with as a police officer decades ago, he said.

“That is because law and order policy is so frequently governed by politics and not by a sensitive and sensible approach to it.”

“If you’ve got politicians too scared to introduce policy that actually might work because it’s seen to be soft on crime they won’t do it because of how it might be reflected in the ballot box.”

There will always be failures in the justice system, some of them high profile and they will be used to by crime and punishment activists.

But Borrows sounds like he could be a good person to lead the review.

And Little looks like a Minister who wants to make a significant difference – but he has a potential problem, party politics, or more to the point, Winston Peters and NZ First.

But with Borrows’ connection to National he may be able to get them onside with justice reform to get the votes with Labour that will get it through Parliament.

I might be able to contribute to the review in a minor way. I now have three years experience dealing with the justice system (ongoing with a possible third appeal plus I have now been dragged into a bankruptcy proceeding as a creditor in which Dermot Nottingham is trying to avoid paying about $220k in court costs that he keeps appealing).

Courts are under a lot of time pressure due to increasing workloads and resigning judges. One problem I have experienced is their lenience with misguided lay litigators who repeatedly fail to follow legal procedures and repeatedly ignore court directions and timetables, and flood proceedings with large amounts of irrelevant paperwork. They should get tough on this, it will save some time in the court system.

And while private prosecutions are an important part of our judicial system they are too easily open to abuse by vexatious litigants who try to inflict costs in protracted hopeless cases.

 

The Nation: Andrew Little on criminal justice reform

One Newshub’s Nation this morning: Justice Minister joins us to discuss why the criminal justice system needs an overhaul, and what will happen if the reforms don’t go far enough

Mike Williams, who now works with the Howard League for Penal Reform, is on the panel so could have some interesting comments.

 will be on their Twitter panel so that could be worth watching.

Justice Minister says…

…at this point repeal of three strikes is off the table but might be considered further down the track.

Says the advice he has received states unless substantial change occurs, a new prison will be needed every two to three year.

On potential law changes, says he will look at the parole act, the bail act, and sentencing law but the real “game changer” is what we can do inside our prisons to rehabilitate offenders.

On high recidivism rates, “It’s not good enough. If I ran a business where 60% of customers were coming back for a refund within two years, I wouldn’t have a business. Yet we tolerate that within our justice system

Says the fact that 60% of inmates re-offend within two years of being released is a sign of failure for the last 30 years of criminal justice policy.

Little rejects assertion by that 98% of inmates are ‘serious criminals’ , says most prisoners entering the system in any one year are there for non-violent, ‘low level’ offences.

This sort of claim has been controversial in parliament this week.

To be honest, my major concern with the NZ form of three strikes are the third strike consequences. Just having the second strike consequence repeated (no parole) would be a possible compromise.

Our prison numbers are nowhere close to the US.

It doesn’t sound like Labour isn’t promising criminal justice reform, but welfare reform, education reform, CYFS reform. But why double-bunk current prisoners in the interim?

If we wanted to reduce the remand population, you don’t need to change bail laws, you need to change police bail practice. National’s law change was minor. What changed were the actions of prosecutors and judges.

How on Earth has *Treasury* identified 20,000 at risk kids? Estimated there are 20k such kids, sure. But how has it worked out their names?

‘Identified’ is a poor description of what must be a rough estimate.

On the panel Mike Williams insisted there were people in prison solely for driving without a licence.

Expert Group announced for ‘overhaul of the welfare system’

An overhaul of the welfare system was included in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

Fair Society

10. Overhaul the welfare system, ensure access to entitlements, remove excessive sanctions and review Working For Families so that everyone has a standard of living and income that enables them to live in dignity and participate in their communities, and lifts children and their families out of poverty.

‘Overhaul’ sounds like the Government is expecting major change. I think we can assume few if any beneficiaries will be worse off as a result of any changes, so this could be expensive to implement.

One aim in particular is contentious – “remove excessive sanctions”. Some say that removing ‘punishments’ is essential to be fair, while others fear a no questions asked welfare system, effectively providing a choice for some, will increase the number on welfare considerably.

Yesterday the Government announced an expert advisory group.

Expert Group established to provide independent advice on welfare system improvements

Minister for Social Development, Hon Carmel Sepuloni, has today announced the formation of an expert advisory group to support the overhaul of the welfare system.

“This Government is committed to overhauling the welfare system to ensure it is accessible and fair for all New Zealanders,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

“To support the overhaul of the welfare system” sounds like the experts are required to advise an overhaul. What if they decide that tweaks would be better? Are the compelled to support an overhaul?

“The Welfare Expert Advisory Group has been asked to undertake a broad-ranging review of the welfare system. It will deliver advice to the Government on ways to ensure people have an adequate income and standard of living, are treated with respect, can live in dignity, and are able to participate meaningfully in their communities.

A broad-ranging review of the welfare system is a good idea if it is able to recommend anything the Group sees as appropriate.

“Areas that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group has been asked to focus on range from considering the overall purpose of the system, through to specific recommendations on the current obligations and sanctions regime.

“The welfare system touches the lives of New Zealanders from all walks of life. I am pleased that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group members themselves come from a diverse range of backgrounds and experience, including but not limited to Māori, Pacific, disabled, and young people.

“The Welfare Expert Advisory Group will deliver its advice to the Government in February 2019. I am looking forward to receiving the Group’s recommendations.”

Minister Tracey Martin said the working group would be a great support to the much needed overhaul of the welfare system.

“Having a range of experienced perspectives outside of government contributing to the Government’s vision in this sector is crucial to getting it right and delivering better outcomes for New Zealanders.”

The perspectives of the group are largely social orientated. Having people with experience in social services is a good thing, as long as that is balanced with what is practical and within a possible budget. There is no indication whether the group is required to consider budgets and what might be ‘affordable’ reform.

The group with (abbreviated) biographies:

CHAIR – Professor Cynthia (Cindy) Kiro (Ngapuhi, Ngati Kahu, Ngati Hine):

Having focussed on Education for the past five years, Professor Kiro also worked in Public Health and Children’s Advocacy for many years. She has extensive experience working in roles to improve outcomes for the New Zealand population. Professor Cindy Kiro is Director of the Starpath Project and also ‘Te Tumu’ – responsible for Māori/indigenous education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland, where she has worked for the last three years.

Professor Innes Asher…

…is a Paediatrician, with vast experience of children and families interacting with the welfare system, and the broader determinants of well-being of children and families. Professor Asher is a committee member and health spokesperson for the Child Poverty Action Group.

Kay Brereton…

…is an experienced advocate for people within the welfare system. She is currently employed as a senior advocate at the Beneficiaries and Unwaged Workers Trust. She has extensive experience working directly with Work and Income clients assisting them to access their full and correct benefit entitlement, and to access their statutory review and appeal rights.

Dr Huhana Hickey (Ngāti Tahinga, Tainui, Ngai Tai)…

…has a long standing interest in the human rights of people from marginal backgrounds and the consequences of discrimination and social oppression. Dr Hickey currently sits on the NZ Human Rights Review Tribunal and is the Chair of the Auckland Council Disability Strategic Advisory Panel. As the recipient of a main benefit, Dr Hickey brings lived experience of the welfare system.

Professor Tracey McIntosh…

…is the Head of Department for Sociology at the University of Auckland and has conducted extensive research in the field of sociology and Māori and Pacific studies. Professor McIntosh advocates for sociology that supports and reflects issues that concern Māori communities. Professor McIntosh also served as the co-chair of the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.

Dr Ganesh Nana…

…is currently the Chief Economist at BERL, having joined the company in 1998 as a Senior Economist. Dr Nana’s work is often related to the Māori economy, regional New Zealand and its economic development, and education and workforce training plans and programmes.

Labour have used BERL to cost their campaign policies, so Nana will be familiar with their policies and their financial inclinations. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this.

Phil O’Reilly…

…has developed long-term working relationships at all levels in the business community as a previous Chief Executive of BusinessNZ. He chaired the Green Growth Advisory Group and his membership of public and private advisory boards and committee appointments has spanned academia, research and development, business, labour and social development, and manufacturing and trade.

Robert Reid

…has over 40 years’ experience in trade unions and in community employment development.  Much of Robert’s work has been with disadvantaged groups and has included work with Maori, Pacific Peoples and migrant communities. Mr Reid is currently Honorary President of FIRST Union.

Trevor McGlinchey…

…is currently the Executive Officer for the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services. In 1986 Trevor started the Te Mahi o Waitaki Trust in Oamaru, this kaupapa Māori Trust developed and operated numerous social enterprises and community initiatives. In his community roles Trevor chairs Moeraki Ltd, a marae based charitable company, and Te Ana Whakairo Ltd a social enterprise based on Māori Tourism.

Latayvia Tualasea Tautai

…is a young Pacific leader from Auckland. She is currently a second-year university student, studying on a University of Auckland Pacific Excellence scholarship towards conjoint Law and Arts Degrees, majoring in Pacific Studies and Political Studies. She has lived experience of the welfare system, growing up in a household with her mother receiving main benefits.

Charles Waldegrave…

…is the founder of the Family Centre 1979 and the Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit 1991. Mr. Waldegrave co-leads the New Zealand Poverty Measurement Project. He has led or jointly led research, evaluation, service and teaching contracts with multiple government agencies. He has written many research articles and specialises in social policy regarding youth, ageing people, and poverty, among others.

The challenge will be to advise on what is good reform but presumably without an open chequebook available.

While the Group largely appears to have been selected based on their advocacy for far better systems of providing welfare, there is some risk for the Government.

If the Group makes expensive recommendations the Government may have to prune things back to fit within future budgets with competing pressures from other big budget things like housing, education and health.

I can see no indication of when any reform may be implemented. The Government may try to fit changes in this term, or they may decide to put welfare reform alongside tax reform (another Group is currently working on that) to the electorate for the general election in 2020.

Major education ‘reform’ plan to be announced today

The Government is announcing ” a complete overhaul of the education system from early childhood right through to post-secondary schooling” today. It is commonly thought that Labour works closely with and for teacher unions, so they will presumably be largely behind the proposals.

Stuff: Convincing parents it’s time for substantial education reform won’t prove easy

The Government is on the brink of its biggest test and the measure of success will be proving educational reform on a scale not seen in almost three decades isn’t just change for change’s sake.

Schools are no strangers to policy changes – as the world evolves, it’s up to principals, teachers and school communities to keep up with the sometimes frightening pace of things like technology.

But on Wednesday Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who arguably already has the worst job in politics, will lay out his plan for a complete overhaul of the education system from early childhood right through to post-secondary schooling.

Since 2002 there’s been the introduction of NCEA and National Standards, a proposal to scrap the way schools are funded through deciles, the closure of Christchurch schools and a u-turn on policy to increase class sizes.

The Tomorrow’s Schools model, which was introduced under then-Prime Minister and Education Minister David Lange in 1989 was educational reform that had never been seen before.

Under Hipkins, Tomorrow’s Schools look set to be Yesterday’s Schools when he announces a three-year work programme to review the entire system.

At least there are some benefits in teacher unions and groups being willing to work with the Government in looking for improvements in our education systems, in contrast to the last nine years where teacher groups (and Hipkins) have strenuously fought National attempts.

But it doesn’t stop there – it’s understood the review will also lead to change in the early childhood area, polytechs and school property.

While parents will welcome more state-of-the-art classrooms for their children, stomaching so much change in other areas could be a scrap the Government has underestimated.

Parents, students and teachers won’t mind something new if it’s better than what they had before but Labour is already fighting off attacks of “ideology-driven policy” when it comes to scrapping National Standards.

Hipkins has criticised the last Government over pursuing ‘ideological’ reforms, but is being criticised of the same thing (albeit different ideologies).

MPs on notice over written question feud, reform possible

Trevor Mallard continues his very promising start as Speaker. He has introduced innovations to try to help the flow of questions and answers, he has been balanced, and has penalised interjections that breach his guidelines in a balanced way. And he has been prepared to adjust his guidelines as he sees how they work in practice.

Question time (Oral Questions) has been working better as a result.

See Speaker Mallard plans to let the game flow

Trevor Mallard says he wants to be a hands-off Speaker in Parliament — if MPs are prepared to play ball. Mallard spoke to Sam Sachdeva about which predecessor is his role model and his plans for parliamentary reform.

On Friday Mallard warned all MPs over the written question feud that had escalated into large numbers of questions to Ministers being submitted by the National Opposition.

Newsroom: MPs on notice over written questions furore

Speaker Trevor Mallard has put both sides of Parliament on notice in the war over written questions, warning them he expects a higher standard once the House resumes in 2018.

Speaking to Newsroom, Mallard said it was “very early days” in the new Parliament, but he expected both sides to resolve the situation by the new year.

“There’s clearly a bit of ‘young bull, old bull’ head bashing going on, and that is pretty inevitable as a settling down of new and different roles.

“I think it’s fair to say I wouldn’t be happy if the current approach from either side continued in the long term … I don’t want us to be in this situation after Christmas.”

“Members are meant to be individually approving each of their questions and I’m not convinced that’s happening, and ministers are meant to be individually approving each of their replies and I’m not convinced that’s happening either, but it’s not my role to dig deeper into either side.

“What I hope is that the Government eventually gets to the point of fulfilling its undertakings to be open and transparent.”

That’s a gentle but pointed reminder of what Jacinda Ardern had promised but have not yet delivered.

Mallard said he would not comment on the quality of the Government’s answers, “other than to say if it continued like that for a long period of time then I would get anxious”.

Asked specifically about decisions to decline written questions asking for a list of briefings, he acknowledged he had used the same approach while in opposition.

He has asked thousands of questions of Ministers in the past. He knows most of the tricks of Parliamentary process, a lot of it from his own experience.

While there were some cases where it was justified to withhold information, Mallard said “most stuff … should be able to be got out there by one route or another”.

However, he described written questions as “sort of like a last resort”, and instead believed it would be better to establish an automated method of releasing information.

“There was a strong view [in past discussions] that if you could get a system that was pretty much automatic, transparent, didn’t require application, then that would be better.

That sounds like significant reform, not just of systems but also of attitudes and practices of Ministers and their departments.

“That obviously takes time, it takes a bit of discussion with the Ombudsman to work out where lines should be.

“Eventually getting some websites going which contain most of that material, for example, Cabinet papers two months after they’ve been to Cabinet automatically up unless there’s a good reason not to, just that sort of stuff would mean you’d have a lot of access to, actually quite boring information, but access to what’s going on.”

Opening up more public mechanisms for transparency was the best approach, he said.

“Frankly, the idea that the written parliamentary question is the mechanism for transparency generally … it would be very sad if it had to be that, because I think it’s not just parliamentarians, everyone should be able to access the matters which should be publicly available.”

I hope Mallard has success with this sort of reforming and the necessary cultural shift.

National MP and shadow leader of the House Simon Bridges said the Opposition remained concerned that the Government was “simply not giving any respect to” the written questions process.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins refused to speak to Newsroom about the issue, with a spokesman saying he had said all he intended to on the matter and was focused on “delivering for New Zealanders”.

There is little sign of progress so far.

 

Should major reforms go to referendum?

Labour were slammed for campaigning on potentially major tax changes that would be determined by a ‘panel of experts’ after the election and could be implemented without a mandate.

Winston Peters wants to negotiate major economic and social reforms. If he succeeds, should these reforms be decided by the people via a binding referendum?

NZ First policy is to let people decide via referendums.

Or should any major changes wait until after the next election to see if there is a mandate for them?

It would be highly ironic if NZ First succeed in reversing ‘the neo-liberal experiment’ started in 1984 with major reforms without a mandate. One of the biggest criticisms of David Lange’s Labour government was in making major changes that most people hadn’t voted for.

Peters has already promised referendums on some relatively minor things like smacking, number of MPs and Maori seats.

To be consistent any major economic or social policies negotiated to form a new government should go to the people to decide on whether they support them.

7.2% of the vote is nowhere near sufficient to force through major changes without getting popular support.