Friday, February 28, 2014

Celebration and Despair

At a personal level I have got much to celebrate, I have been selected as the Green Party candidate for Invercargill and I have had a steady stream of support for our local campaign. A number of people who I haven't heard from since the last election have been getting in contact and are offering their services again. We also have a wonderful French wwoofer who has brought order back to my wild and neglected vege garden and I have been enjoying delicious cooking smells as she prepares this evening's meal.

The despair comes from a series of recent news items that epitomises this John Key led government's approach to governance.

1) Oil exploration consents will be non notifiable, which means that the public will have no involvement in the approval process. While the consents will be considered under "discretionary" activity rather than "permitted" the Environmental Protection Agency will now be the sole environmental watchdog for future consents. While the government claims that environmental controls over oil and gas exploration are much stronger than under previous governments we also need to consider the fact that we have never had drilling in our waters at such great depths before. Taranaki drilling occurs at a depth of 100 meters while the drilling in the Great South Basin will be at a depth of 1,500 metres or over. The EPA hardly provided much reassurance recently (regarding due diligence) when they signed off Anadarko's response plan by only looking at the summary.

The preferential support and subsidies that the oil industry gets from the New Zealand government are extraordinary. They introduced a bill in December that extends the tax exemption for non-resident oil rig and seismic vessel operators (worth around $5 million a year) and have provided them with $25 million worth of free seismic surveys.

Combine all of the above with the legislation to limit protests at sea and we have high levels of corporate welfare and heavy handed limits to democratic process.

2) Pike River is continuing to cause grief for the families of the deceased miners. It is fairly clear from a recently revealed letter from Whittall's lawyer that he was able to buy his way out of a conviction. Anyone who has read Rebecca Macfie's thoroughly researched book on the disaster will know that it was Whittall's leadership that was the constant thread throughout the development of this highly flawed mine. To claim that it would have been difficult to achieve a conviction against Whittall defies belief and even if a few of the 25 charges were made to stick it would have brought some sense of closure for the families. I'm sure that the $100,000 or so that each family would have received from the $3.4 million that was offered would have been given up if the main person responsible had been convicted for his part in the deaths.

It is clear with this Government that those in CEO roles should have greater advantages and protections than ordinary citizens, especially as regards the fossil fuel industry. While Don Elder was not immediately responsible for the deaths of many miners, his inept management of Solid Energy saw many mining families seriously affected when mines were closed and jobs lost with little warning. Elder received no disciplinary action for the $400,000 million debt incurred from the company's collapse and instead he was allowed to go on gardening leave while still receiving his $1.3 million salary.

3) New Zealand's involvement in the Five Eyes surveillance alliance has been under scrutiny since it was revealed that it had been spying illegally against Kim Dotcom and number of other New Zealand citizens. Again there appears to be little that we can do to ensure the agency operates transparently and within the law, we have assurances that this has to occur but no way of knowing if it really will. There is also the very real concern that US influence may be over-riding the sovereignty we should have over our own spies, especially if the GCSB refuse to divulge whether they receive funding from the NSA, (like occurred with the British spy agency). Not only can't our spies accurately report details that involve single digits, but yet another Edward Snowden leak revealed that our spies have been trained in a variety of dirty tricks to entrap targets.

At least the three protesters who damaged the Waihopai spy base in 2008 had their damages action dropped, we now know much more about the spy base activities and few people will see justice being served if the actioned had continued.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Green Party Candidate For Invercargill 2nd Time

It doesn't seem like three years ago when I first stood as a Green Party candidate in Invercargill, however a lot of water (much of it full of sediments and nitrogen) has flowed under the bridge since then. I am a older, wiser, possibly a little leaner and the Green Party is much stronger.

I noticed it was May in 2011 when I was selected last time and I am three months ahead this time round. In fact I am the first of any party to announce my candidacy for Invercargill (I have heard that the National Party are selecting theirs this weekend).

Lesley Soper was actually selected for the Labour Party in December of 2013, but when the sitting National MP Eric Roy announced his retirement the Labour Party strangely opened nominations again. Lesley, a seasoned campaigner (with past experience as an MP) is being challenged by Michael Gibson, an ACC advocate.

Two weeks ago I attended the Green Party Campaign Conference in Auckland, one of the best managed and professional conferences that I have attended. This is where all those who have been selected for the candidates pool (a prerequisite for later selection as an electorate candidate) perform a number of tasks in front of delegates and fellow candidates to inform the initial list ranking. Fifty of us put ourselves through this grueling process and I was personally impressed by the diversity of backgrounds and consistently strong performances. We had farmers, bankers and scientists, the youngest was 20 and the oldest 67 and 8 identified as Maori. The Greens have developed into a mature party with an increasingly diverse membership.

The draft list ranking will be established by the votes of delegates and candidates attending the conference and then this goes out to the wider membership so that they can have their input. Under this democratic process current MPs are not guaranteed a high ranking and all of us will be judged on the value we can bring to the next Green caucus.

Hearing the announcement today of the last asset sale and realizing that around 1/2  a billion dollars of taxpayers money has been spent on progressing them all, makes me even more determined that we can remove this dangerous government and replace it with a truly progressive one.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Discrimination, Opinion Polls and Altered Perceptions

We have a number of polls that regularly inform us of the level of support for each of our political parties. Most people accept them as being impartially and honestly managed and as there is reasonably close similarity between them it appears to confirm their legitimacy. However, if I said that almost 20% of potential voters are excluded from being able to participate in the polls most people would cry foul, and yet that is most likely the case.

Almost all polls are conducted through telephone landlines and yet there are rapidly growing numbers of people who have ditched landlines completely. Halfway through 2013 almost 17% of those who participated in a Stuff poll didn't have a landline and another 24% were contemplating dumping theirs. Since it is largely those on minimal incomes or younger people who have opted for only having mobile phones, I think we can safely assume at least 20% of potential voters would currently be excluded from participating in most political polls.

The guidelines that are being developed for political polling make no reference to the fact that using landlines will skew any sample by excluding significant demographics. A large percentages of poor families and many of our Maori and Pacifika people will not have a landline and I think it would be safe to say that the majority of 18-28 year olds would only use a mobile. Roy Morgan does claim to also call mobile phones (and I thank Keeping Stock for pointing this out) but, as most are unlisted, it is unlikely that they would be calling many.

I believe that if polling did accurately cover all demographics of age, ethnicity and wealth (through greater use of mobile phones) we would get much different results. Obviously there is also the reasonable concern that if one party is perceived as more popular, it would cause some people to shift their support and become like a self fulfilling prophecy.

The crucial polls in any election are those close to election day. When we compare the average polling percentage for the National Party over the crucial week before the 2011 election we find some interesting data. The National Party averaged 51.4% over the five preceding polls which was 3.7% above their election result. We all know that many potential Labour voters didn't vote because there was a perception, based on polling, that National's support may even have allowed them to govern alone (a Fairfax poll even had them at 54%). Obviously anything above 50% creates a psychological advantage and if the polls had recorded their actual support in the upper 40s then many more may have felt encouraged to vote. As it turned out National ended up with a very slim majority and the 25% who didn't vote were most likely many of those who were also absent from polling.

Interestingly if we were to look at the averages over recent polls and compare them with just before the last election, National is averaging about 5% behind the polls taken before the 2011 election, Labour is around 6% higher and the Greens are about the same. Despite this, and the obvious advantage National has with polling, the Party is still being talked up by the media as possibly being able to govern alone. Based on the likely margin of error their real support would probably be around 46% and with no likely coalition partner.

Obviously I can't just blame the polls for the last election result, political parties still need to have smart campaigns and credible candidates but it would be fairer if skewed polls didn't have the influence that they do.

(The graph featured above is sourced from Wikipedia and uses averages across polls to track support.)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Executive Principals and National's Education Dystopia

If you asked teachers and school communities what would make the most difference in helping their kids and lifting achievement, especially in lower decile communities, I know what the responses would be. They would ask for greater access to special education services and RTLBs, more teacher aids to provide support for their high needs children and have our once amazing advisory services reinstated. They would ask for more time to organise high interest programmes and less time on data collection and report writing. Teachers would also like to have their professional knowledge respected and greater autonomy to decide themselves how to meet the needs of those in their class. Having nurses and social workers available to deal with the constant health and welfare issues that confront many teachers as they try to teach would also be useful.

When John Key announced the Government's plan of spending a whopping $359 million on education it was received with a sort of stunned incredulity. For years there was never enough money to pay support staff a living wage or fund our special education services fully and suddenly we were presented with a significant windfall.

Elements of what Key presented were similar to what the profession had been wanting for a number of years, recognition of great teachers, greater collaboration and career pathways, but the government's version was a little different to the profession's. This wasn't a comprehensive policy that also addressed the complexities of teaching and learning across different communities but a model of a new leadership structure and one that gave huge financial rewards to an elite few.

What the National led Government proposes is a shift away from the self managed Tommorrow's Schools to Ministry led 'Executive Principals' selected to do their bidding. These principal's (most likely drawn from the secondary sector) will oversee clusters of around ten schools and will appoint expert and lead teachers to work in those schools under their direction. Ministry selection panels will be appointing these principals who have a commitment to the Government's data driven National Standards and as such will be under the same gagging clause as others who work for government ministries. This will effectively shut down much of the professional opposition to future changes and will separate school leadership even more from their teaching colleagues.

There is some vague semblance of consultation with the profession around these new roles but when you consider that it generally takes many years of collaboration, research and trials to develop sound educational change, the ten weeks that the Government has allowed in this case is laughable. I am guessing there will be few changes allowed to the actual roles but some input will be grudgingly accepted to the manner of implementation, as occurred with the introduction of National Standards.

There will be an even greater distinction between public and private education from now on. Private schools will continue to receive even greater funding and support for their elite students and will enjoy a high level of autonomy (as will the newly introduced Charter Schools). Public Schools, on the other hand, will become data driven institutions where their leadership will be expected to deliver Ministry driven programmes centered on literacy and numeracy. I can predict that once the Executive Principals (EPs) are appointed the Government will eventually save money from the initial investment by applying a business model to schooling. The EPs will most likely develop into CEOs and all other principals in their cluster will lose their management roles and become lead teachers. The many school boards will probably become merged into one governance body that will oversee all the schools in the cluster. The savings will be considerable but each school will lose their identity as they will have to conform to the vision of each EP, a little like franchised businesses.

You may think that this is a cynical exaggeration of what the government has presented but we only need to look at how National Standards and Charter Schools were introduced, with the total disregard of professional advice, to see the logic of what I have described. This Government clearly supports the GERM agenda that has corrupted public education in Australia, England and the US and we are only experiencing what has already happened there.

Few conservative governments understand education and the value of professional knowledge and the treatment of the Christchurch schools revealed a total disregard of the importance of communities. The complexities of natural human development and the flexibility necessary to meet the individual needs of children is also completely beyond them. They do understand inputs and outputs, spreadsheets of data and commercial competition. Applying this thinking and understanding to education is a logical outcome and the proliferation of 'one size fits all' models. Sadly, once again, our most vulnerable children will not receive the sort of support they really need and inequalities will continue to grow.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Greens' Solar Sense and National's Nonsense

Russel Norman's recent announcement of the Green Party's solar energy initiative is a fiscally neutral, smart policy. Home owners will access cheap government loans that are attached to the house, not the person, and will be paid off through the rates bill. The policy is already being seen as a positive move by those who understand the benefits of solar energy. A $10,000 solar panel installation will save a home owner $28,000 over the 25 year life of the system.

Solar energy uptake has been slow in New Zealand compared to many other countries but it is by far the fastest growing energy sector. By having having a target of installing panels on 30,000 homes in the first term of government the Greens have set a realistic goal and allowed for a well managed growth of the industry.

The benefits of the policy go well beyond the 30,000 homes, it will also support the development of new businesses, in the same way that the home insulation scheme did, and will provide hundreds of jobs. Having an increase in demand for photovoltaic panels will support a reduction in manufacturing costs, so that future installations will become even cheaper.

For many households, especially those where winters are colder, power bills are a major part of their household budget. Although the average household power bill is around $2,000 a year it can be well over double that for those who live in the south.

Our own Invercargill home is pretty typical of many, it is a larger, brick and roughcast, character home built in 1932 (luckily it was built to face north as many weren't). We have insulation above the ceilings, underfloor insulation, some double glazing and recently installed solar water heating. Despite also having a heat pump and wood burner our electricity costs over the last year were over $3,300. We have also shopped around and have changed providers a number of times, which has not always been an easy process.

My sister and husband have a modest income but are now the proud owners of a life style block and have their house completely off the grid with a high performance solar system of panels and storage batteries that cost them $25,000 including installation costs. They are now self sufficient for their electricity needs and after 8 years or so the system will have paid for itself.

Friends have recently built a new house and paid $6,100 for 24 panels, $2.800 for an inverter and $9,000 for installation. Over January they received a $70 credit from Meridian for their excess generation.

Schools are also beginning to discover the economic value of solar energy and a high ranking Green Party candidate, Aaryn Barlow, is fronting a scheme to support the uptake. For the Greens, the use of solar energy is more than just a hypothetical idea, we are already putting it to practice.

National have already been burnt by the reception of the Greens' well received education policy when their own expensive education initiative received lukewarm support. Simon Bridges desperately suggested that the modest loans were somehow "magic money" and an unnecessary subsidy. Bridges incredibly didn't believe that solar energy was necessary in New Zealand. John Key bizarrely claimed that the scheme would destabilise the current system and would cause companies to increase charges. National would rather see people dependent on the current flawed system that has seen a 22% increase in power bills over their time in office.

We are now seeing a stark contrast between a government desperate to support the status quo of increasing charges and large company profits, while the future focussed Greens are truly progressive in their thinking.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rich Schools, Poor Schools

I am a strong advocate for public schools and the philosophy behind quality public education. It should be a basic right of any child, in any affluent first world country, to have ready access to a good education, no matter their social economic status or culture. All public schools should be funded equitably so that, as much as possible, a child's local school can be expected to deliver teaching and learning of a high standard.

When I started teaching in 1980 the system wasn't perfect but there was little noticeable difference between schools in resourcing and professional support. We had inspectors and advisors who had a good idea of the needs of individual schools and took a fairly paternalistic approach to ensuring their support went where it was needed most. I also remember a clear career pathway where one was expected to build experience in different roles before taking on leadership positions. Beginning teachers were not employed in small rural schools, for example, because it was recognised that they needed the professional guidance provided by larger teaching communities. In two or three teacher schools, where children would have the same teacher for several years, they needed experienced professionals in those jobs.

The sense of equitability has largely left education now and we appear to have abandoned the idea that all schools should be supported in a similar way. We now have winners and losers. Private schools now capture a much greater level of public funding despite the fact they teach a small minority of our students. Private secondary schools also grab a greater share of special needs funding because low decile parents cannot afford the assessments to access the support. Small private schools are saved with public money, at great expense, while similar sized state schools are closed.

While the Government claims parents now have choice, this isn't true in reality. Despite the fact that schools can't impose fees, most high decile schools now expect large donations that are beyond struggling families and those who can't pay them can be publicly shamed. Struggling parents are having their children excluded from some schools because it is too embarrassing to be not able to pay the 'donation'. Even in the public system we have 'rich' schools and 'poor' schools and despite the decile weighting that provides greater funding for lower deciles there can be as much as $1,000 a year difference in available funds per pupil between high and low decile schools.

Into this mix we have the new Charter (or Partnership) Schools where the concept of a level playing field has again been thrown out the window. These schools are being funded at a rate well above a similar sized public schools and teachers are being grabbed from previous positions with the attraction of much higher salaries. It will be hardly fair to compare the success of the Charter Schools against the public schools when the level of public funding per student can be around $3500 greater. What is even more obscene is that the Charter schools don't even have to use the state funding for educational purposes and can filter some off for profit or other purposes.

The Government's latest plan to pay some principals and teachers much higher salaries, based partly on their National Standards results, will likely destroy what little collegiately is left in the profession. Teachers and principals will be pitted against each other for an increase in salary of up to $50,000 and the temptation to fudge results and narrow teaching to access the money will be strong. This is the experience of other education systems using similar policies.

The once level playing field for New Zealand schools is but a memory and for many school communities it is like playing up hill into a strong wind with no half time or change of sides possible (and the score difference is growing rapidly).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

First they ignore you...

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win"
-Mahatma Gandhi

The 2014 election year looks as though it is developing into a campaign of personal attacks and rummaging though others' dirty washing. I don't mind being a member of a party that 'goes hard' on the issues but when we got a public analysis of the cost and aesthetic value of an MP's clothing, and whether they have the right to wear it, a new low had been reached.

Many Green Party members are a little bemused and surprised at the amount of the attention the Green Party and its MPs are getting at this stage of the year. It almost appears that National and its supporters are more inclined to level their attacks on the Green Party than Labour.

While abuse and attacks are coming thick and fast it is easy to feel offended when the vast majority of the accusations are inaccurate, exaggerated, total beat ups or just plain lies. The immediate and most natural response is to be defensive and deny each and every accusation, but I suggest this will largely be a wasted effort. We are better to remember Gandhi's quote and realize that we must be well along the continuum for getting into government.

It seems that rather than attending to the important issues of the day, National Party supporters are dredging Facebook for interesting tit bits of Green Party gossip and easily debunked list rankings are being analysed in detail. It is apparently more important to build up potential coalition partners and find dirt on the opposition than seriously attend to an unwelcome incursion into our territorial waters and address the fact that New Zealand products are being removed from Australian Supermarket shelves. In both cases the Government's response appears to be less than decisive.

The National Party is counting heavily on the flag debate capturing more voter interest and attention than the mess they made of the asset sales and their rather rushed and expensive education initiative (only 44% in a Stuff poll think it's a great plan).

The Green Party just needs to continue doing what it does best, putting forward practical solutions for a sustainable and compassionate future and asking the hard questions of a Government that has few answers. As National's responses become more personal and desperate and the attacks become even more petty and vicious, we should not feel obliged to play the same game, we have far more productive ways to spend our time.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Waitangi Day and the Right to Protest

John Key's overly enthusiastic condemnation of protestors at Waitangi was another attempt to feed the perception that protest is unhealthy and unnecessary. It turns out that the Governor General wasn't under any threat and the scuffle was really a minor incident. I am sure that there was a tactical element to Key's comments given that the Te Reinga Hikoi against deep sea drilling was due to arrive the following day and he wanted to minimize its impact by labeling any protest as undesirable. His comment to reporters was cleverly worded:

"Most people go to Waitangi to have a great time but there are one or two people that go to cause trouble and use the media to advance their own causes and their own issues."

By making this statement Key was able to dismiss any other protest as just involving a few malcontents who are selfishly spoiling a nice day for a minority cause. What the Prime Minister conveniently refuses to recognise is the long history of protests at Waitangi that actually represented genuine grievances and concerns. Waitangi protestors are often denigrated at the time but history has generally revealed that the protests were justified.

In 1940 Apirana Nagata used Waitangi Day to challenge the nation's record of race relations, he observed that not everyone had something to celebrate.

Many young Maori staged a walkout during the 1972 celebrations in a protest against ongoing discrimination The Governor General at the time, Sir Arthur Porritt unfortunately remarked that he didn't believe discrimination existed and that relationships were being adequately dealt with through intermarriage.

Protests over the ownership of Bastion Point and the Raglan Golf Course dominated Waitangi into the 80s until they were rightfully returned when it was finally accepted that the lands had been misappropriated. Emotion dominated many of the protests over this period due to the understandable feelings of injustice and Waitangi commemorations included large numbers of police and security to maintain order.

The 1984 Hikoi was organised and supported by the Waitangi Action committee, the New Zealand Maori Council, the Maori Women's Welfare League,  Te Kotahitanga and Kingitanga (Maori King movement). It demonstrated that Maori concerns regarding te Tiriti were not just held by a few Maori radicals but were widely supported throughout iwi and across generations.

In 1990, the 150th anniversary of the treaty signing, the Anglican Bishop of Aotearoa Whakahuihui Vercoe stated, in the presence of the Queen, that the day was bound to produce tensions, no matter what the programme. He gave an emotional sermon where he stated "As I remember the history of our land, I weep here on the shores of the Bay of Islands."

Attempts to change the management of treaty claims and limit the compensation caused such strong feelings during the mid 90's that the Government felt forced to hold the official ceremony away from Waitangi. The Prime Minister at the time, Jim Bolger, also tried to ignore the previous history of protests and made the unusual claim "…there can be no going back to commemorate and celebrate Waitangi as it was. That is over."

In 2004 protestors used the day to highlight concerns about the Government's discriminatory seabed and foreshore legislation that blocked Maori from using the legal process to determine ownership. Helen Clark's handling of the situation did not help when a hikoi of around 20,000 people arrived at Parliament and she dismissed it with the insensitive comment that she preferred the company of Shrek the sheep over the 'haters and wreckers' gathered outside. Don Brash found himself pelted with mud in the same year as he arrived for the 2004 Waitangi celebrations. He had recently made his infamous Owera speech in which he claimed that Maori had advantages over other New Zealanders and that they were abusing those advantages. This surprised and angered Maori who dominated our prisons and poverty statistics and were continuing to fight the obvious discrimination that existed in many laws and further their legitimate claims through the Waitangi Tribunal.

The expectation that Waitangi Day should be a peaceful celebration of a coming together of two peoples is unrealistic when there continues to be discrimination and bullying from successive governments. While Key and his predecessors are quick to complain about the verbal and occasional physical abuse they are subjected to on one or two days a year at Waitangi, many Maori are justifiably concerned at the covert violence that occurs against them every day as each piece of discriminatory legislation is passed and legal rights and due process continue to be denied.

This year's Waitangi protest is mainly about off shore oil drilling, the Government has already limited protests, and has so far refused to consult iwi on drilling proposals despite their historical and ongoing connections with the seabed and foreshore. So much for recognising the concept of partnership enshrined in te Tiriti and the importance to Maori of protecting kaimoana. Under John Key the arrogance, cultural insensitivity and discrimination continues and so will the protests.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"They go hard, they really go hard"

John Key and his ministers obviously feel under pressure from the Greens due to their determined and "hard" approach.

"…see who says the hardest and nastiest comments, they almost always come from the Greens," claims the Prime Minister. "They go hard, they go really hard…I don't feel too bullied but they don't hold back."

Gerry Brownlee has staggered out of the house on some days battered and bruised by the ferocious attacks from Julie Anne Genter. There was one time when the Speaker was forced to step in and help him when he had no answer for one of Julie Anne's direct hits. Bill English also gets rattled by the thorough research behind Julie Anne's questions and has to read out written answers to protect himself.

Gareth Hughes also plays hard and Gerry Brownlee and Amy Adams have both found themselves struggling to find convincing answers to his probing questions.

Metiria Turei also a reputation for hard hitting during question time and one question actually caused Brownlee to go down for a count as he refused to rise to give an answer. Metira has had the Minister for Education struggling to give straight answers to very reasonable questions and the normally confident Health Minister has also floundered. Metiria's reputation as a nasty politician possibly comes from when she was ejected from the house for daring to suggest that the Government's SkyCity deal was 'sleazy".

John Key's comments about the Greens going hard was obviously influenced by Russel's recent dogged attacks on himself regarding the Government's business case for irrigation subsidies. Russel has such a solid understanding of economics that he regularly has the Finance Minister backed into corners and digging deep to come up with a convincing responses. The Government's plan to borrow its way to prosperity has been especially exposed by Russel.

When Kennedy Graham accused the Government of 'ecocide', because of their deliberate dismantling of our country's climate change response, it had National MPs crying foul. This was obviously another example of nasty Green politics.

Holly Walker revealed that the Minister for Social Development had no idea or interest in how damaging the Government's policies were on struggling families.

Denise Roche is pushing Simon Bridges to intervene to stop further deaths in the forest industry.

Kevin Hague exposed the Government's underfunding of diabetes prevention measures.

Catherine Delahunty had the Minister of Foreign Affairs struggling to explain his decisions.

Jan Logie has challenged the Minister for Social Development regarding the lack of rights for our children and the Minister of Justice for the lack of real support for rape victims.

There are many more examples from all the other Green MPs too.

I have no problem with our Green MPs going hard in the House as it is actually the job of opposition parties to hold the Government to account. If the government of the day is following good process and is well informed then Question Time should pose no problems. If Ministers have nothing to hide then a straight answer is easy. On the other hand, if a government has secret agendas, does not support transparent process and does not use evidence and research to support decisions, life becomes difficult.

The election campaign ahead is obviously going to be hard and dirty because the Greens will not stop asking questions and demanding answers. The National Party is in a vulnerable place, with few ideas, limited answers and no real coalition partners. National has already lost the head fight so will strike below the belt to try and win. The low hits seem to be coming already.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

National Attacks the Jacket Not the Message

2014 started well with the annual Picnic for the Planet where the Green Party does its version of a State of the Nation speech, it serves the same purpose as what National and Labour do, only it's more fun. This year Co-leader, Metiria, announced the Green's $100 million dollar 'schools as hubs' initiative and it went down extremely well, with many who work in education actually singing its praises.

National were obviously stuck for a response when the Greens' plans were modest compared to their own $359 million proposal and were obviously more practical. All they could come up with in rebuttal was that they were already being done and were nothing new. Of course all those with any experience of their local school would know how hollow that claim was.

A fly on the wall witnessing the meeting of National's strategists may have been aware of slight level of panic. The main approach in dealing with the Greens was to ridicule and constantly refer to printing money. This was going to be much harder since the Greens had received such widespread support for their solutions to deal with inequity.

Towards the end of 2013 Green Party MPs were regularly scoring hits on National by exposing the dodgy nature of the SkyCity deal, the obvious lack of scrutiny or protections for any deep sea oil drilling accident and the reliance on the disgraced John Banks and Peter Dunn to pass questionable legislation.

It was clear with the school hub announcement the Greens were not going to be dismissed so easily in election year when their policies were properly researched, well costed and already proven to be effective. The crazy label would be hard to make stick especially when National's own possible coalition partner Colin Craig had already cornered the political market of crazy. When arguments and dismissive comments fail National's strategy tool box becomes limited and it appears that personal attacks are all they have left.

When Metiria suggested during the debate on the Prime Ministers statement that National was out of touch with the poor of New Zealand it was too much for Anne Tolley and she came out swinging with insults and innuendo. Metiria, claimed Tolley, lived in a castle, wore $2,000 designer jackets and was only a list MP and therefore wasn't in a position to "lecture" her on her ability to empathise with the poor.

The fact that Metiria's so called castle was the creation of an eccentric in the 1970s and was bought for less than an ex state house in Auckland and Tolley had no idea of what Metirias jacket cost was beside the point. The accusation would never have been made to a non Maori MP and the covert racism was not missed by Maori political commentator Morgan Godfrey and others.

When Metiria called Tolley on the racist implications of her comments all hell broke out in right wing blogs, making out that it was Metiria herself who was being overly precious. Judith Collins weighed in with her two pennies worth by condescendingly claiming that Metiria was a "sensitive little sausage" and a "hypocrite". When asked by a reporter why someone who dresses nicely can't champion poverty Collin's answered, "Well they can, but she doesn't dress nicely".

What was most bizarre was John Key's thoughts on the matter, "Go back and play the file footage and see who says the hardest, often nastiest comments. Almost always comes from the Greens-they go really hard." In saying this he was attempting to fabricate the myth that the Greens make nasty comments too and therefore deserve the personal attacks. The Greens are no longer crazy, they're nasty according to the new spin. Readers of this blog can judge for themselves the level of nastiness used: here is Metiria's speech during the debate and here is Tolley's. The jacket in question is pictured at the top of this post.

In a Checkpoint interview Metiria was strongly challenged to explain why she felt the remarks about her clothes were racist and her response was measured and convincing. As a Co-leader of a major political party and working in Parliament there are certain expectations of dress, so why should her choice of clothing be questioned when what she wears is bought from similar shops as other female MPs. Her only conclusion was that there was a view being expressed covertly that a Maori woman from a working class background couldn't wear smart clothes to be true advocate for her people.