Anti-Choice Lobby Group Oversteps its Remit

Following the change of government in New Zealand, there is hope that progress may be made on social issues. New Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern campaigned on decriminalisng abortion and it is likely that voluntary euthanasia will be introduced (either through David Seymour’s bill or a referendum).

These initiatives have riled up the anti-choice zealots, who have resorted to doubling down on their usual scaremongering and even go so far as to misrepresent the new government’s position. In this post, I want to take issue with the conduct of one anti-choice group: the inappropriately named “Right to Life“.

Right to Life and their retrograde spokesperson Ken Orr is a common go-to voice whenever the mainstream media reports on abortion or euthanasia as part of providing false balance. While I understand that an anti-choice lobby group would hold opinions about these issues, spokesperson Orr has made statements in his capacity as Right to Life spokesperson that have nothing to do with the “principles” outlined on the Right to Life webpage.

Let’s start with the Metiria Turei scandal that blew up in July. The whole affair was a purely financial matter, Turei had claimed social security payments beyond her entitlement due to having flatmates. For some reason, Right to Life put out a press release calling for Turei’s resignation saying:

Right to Life believes that the community do not wish to have a person who is a self-confessed fraudster sitting at the head of government … We salute those heroic solo mother’s who have chosen life for their child and who respect the law and do not resort to benefit fraud.

This press release is unhinged. Orr fails to credit Turei for “choosing life” herself and he clearly has no understanding that finances play a role when people opt for abortions. Let’s not forget that Turei said her actions were a matter of survival, she made a pro-life decision! If Right to Life had any sense, they would back Turei and support her call for a more humane social security system.

Today, Right to Life has managed to find itself commenting again on things which don’t concern it, this time it’s about parliamentary Speaker Trevor Mallard’s revision of the parliamentary prayer. Mallard hasn’t gone far enough, the new prayer still makes reference to a fake god, and an unelected layabout.

On the other hand, Orr had an article published on a Fairfax news website where he bemoaned the removal of references to Christ. His objection consists of weak mumblings about “Christian heritage” and has nothing to do with Right to Life’s areas of interest. It also makes a mockery of their claims to be secular.

Of course Orr is allowed to hold opinions on whatever topics he likes, however he should not promote them in his capacity as Right to Life spokesperson. As I see it, Orr is using the lobby group as a means of self-promotion. The christofascist-themed viewpoints distract from more legitimate reservations about life choice issues (e.g. Right-wing governments using euthanasia to cut health spending).

A propagandist posing as a lobby group should not get priority over others when it comes to writing about topics beyond the scope of their lobby group. Fairfax should stop posting Right to Life’s irrelevant opinions dressed up as news.



Paradise Papers Reveal Absurdity of GST

As if the Panama Papers weren’t enough, we have had more information about the barely legal and unethical dealings of the super-wealthy following the release of the Paradise Papers. Much of the focus has been about how individuals and corporations with the help of tax havens are able to structure their affairs to minimise their tax bills. In effect, they are stealing from taxpayers who bear an undue brunt of the cost for keeping their respective governments functioning.

This scandal has largely gone unnoticed in New Zealand because the corporate media is too busy recapping events in reality TV shows such as Couples Spend More Money Than Anticipated on Ego Projects, and  Ignorant White People Discover That Arranged Marriages Aren’t That Great After All. So I’ll need to turn to international media again. The Guardian is the most prominent Anglophone newspaper that has covered the Paradise Papers and has put out too many articles to cover in any great detail, but I would like to discuss one that particularly caught my attention:

2017 Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton avoided paying up to £3.3 million of VAT (value added tax, known as GST in New Zealand) when importing a Bombardier private jet. The jet was made to look like it was available for charter, by doing so VAT can be claimed against the purchase and running costs associated with business operations. VAT can not be reclaimed when jet was used for leisure purposes. Depending on the breakdown of business and leisure travel, Hamilton may have been required to pay a proportion of the £3.3 million in VAT.

My disdain for the wealthy avoiding taxes is not limited just to Hamilton, but to everyone who has been caught out in the Paradise Papers. If you want to live in a civilised society, someone has to pay for it. It is only logical that those with the most wealth are liable for most of the taxation levied by governments. The quality of life of the majority of the population suffers when governments are not able to provide high quality services such as education, healthcare, and security.

Furthermore, the wealthy are only wealthy because of public infrastructure, an educated and healthy workforce, state-funded research and enforced intellectual property laws. Were it not for strong and effective government, they could not have achieved what they have been able to do. It is in their best interest to support government, and that means paying taxes. Weak arguments such as “the government would just waste money anyway” are just shallow excuses made by sad individuals trying to allay their guilt.

Of course it one thing to insist that the rich should pay their full amount of taxes voluntarily, but no one listens to me. Instead it is up to governments to close down the loopholes in the law that have been exploited. What I find interesting about Lewis Hamilton’s case is that he was able to avoid VAT, a consumption tax like GST.

GST has been defended by neoliberals because it was seen as “simple”, “efficient” and “hard to avoid”. The Paradise Papers have shown that all of these arguments are a complete sham. GST is nothing more than a regressive ideological act of faith that puts more pressure on ordinary people while allowing for the rich to become richer. Even worse, there are mechanisms which allow wealthy people to actively avoid GST on big-ticket purchases!

Governments are largely paying lip-service to the idea that something must be done, but don’t expect the oligarch-funded centre-right to do anything about it. Meaningful change starts by electing solid left/centre-left candidates to national office. It’s encouraging to see Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn come out against the practices highlighted in the Paradise Papers. The British government should also intervene in their overseas territories to harmonise the tax structure within the UK. That action alone would close so many loopholes featured in the Paradise Papers.

It’s vital to the long-term welfare of our society that it is properly funded by those who have the ability to fund it, who also happen to be those who have benefited the most from it.

I am Shocked, Shocked to Find That Gambling is Going on in the Engineers’ Workshops!

Having slogged through the stellar-dilute space far above the galactic plane while playing Elite Dangerous with my 52 LY Asp Explorer, I purchased an Anaconda with the aim of configuring it for an even higher jump range. Other players have reported jump ranges in the high 60s, I could do with that.

To get that far, one needs the Horizons expansion and needs to play the Engineers (update 2.1). The Engineers are a small group of characters littered across the Bubble who can modify ship modules to alter their performance (note that I used the word alter, not necessarily improve). The associated gameplay is objectively poor, engineers are unlocked by employing the services of other engineers and doing some mind-numbing tasks. Each modification requires the player to provide materials to trigger the random generation of new properties for the module (rolls for short).

Wait, did you say random? Yes that’s right: random. To modify a module to your liking, you may need to trigger the modification generation many times, costing you more materials each time. These materials are time-consuming and boring to collect. It comes as no surprise that Engineers is vehemently disliked by the Elite Dangerous playerbase. Other objections include:

(1) It was broken. For a while, there was a bug where players could get a powerful Grade 5 roll for the low cost of a Grade 1 roll, meaning that it was easier to get strong modifications since materials were easier to collect. This was largely kept as a secret among players and was widely used by griefers to engineer their ships. Crooked mods were even used to influence the outcome of an in-game event that would form the basis of a Frontier-sanctioned novel.

Like all secrets, it got out eventually and Frontier were able to remove all crooked modifications. I enjoyed the impotent outrage disseminated by the cheaters. It is nonetheless disappointing that a broken system, exploited by deplorables to ruin the experience of the game for decent people was allowed to persist for so long.

(2) It commits the logical fallacy of false balance. In order to pretend that The Engineers is a sophisticated piece of game design, a modification to a module will include benefits and drawbacks. Consider extending the range of an FSD for example: Improved optimised mass (usually) comes at the expense of power draw and integrity. Subsequently, I will get bad rolls where the optimised mass is lower than my existing modification, but with better integrity and power draw metrics.

Here’s the problem: I don’t give a damn about integrity or power draw, I just want the highest optimised mass so that my ship can jump as far as possible. Thus, many of my materials are wasted on modifications that are of no use to me.

(3) The outcomes are unclear. If one is extending the range of their FSD, they may want to know what the range will be once a modification is applied. Optimised mass, actual mass and max fuel per jump all matter and combine in a way that is hard to quantify. No new jump range information is given, you need to figure that out yourself. Not good enough Frontier.

Frontier has finally cottoned on to the awfulness of the Engineers. As part of the post-Horizons Beyond expansion, the Engineers will be revised. In Q1 2018, each successive roll will be an improvement upon the preceding roll.

This change is not fast enough, it could be up to 5 months away. I can’t see why it should take so long. I would suggest that instead of randomly generating an effect with a pseudo-random number generator, the effect should be generated using the equation that describes a first-order step response. Here, the independent variable is the number of rolls. The time constant could then be set to a certain number of rolls. Figure 1 shows the case when the time constant is equal to 1 roll.

Ideal Engineers Graph

Figure 1. Proposed function for generating an effect in Engineers.

In the example given above, I would only need to do five rolls to get the maximum optimised mass out of my FSD. Similar (decreasing) profiles would exist for negative effects. I would also know what the outcome would be prior to the roll, allowing me to make an informed decision about whether I want to spend time unlocking an Engineer and collecting materials.

These changes would reduce the fatigue associated with overuse of the Engineers mechanic and save me the grief of rejecting modifications which aren’t an improvement on the last roll. The reduced variability in modified modules would also make the game a more level playing field for player vs player (PVP) interactions.

Protesting the Age Rating

I decided to have a go at forcing Frontier to change Engineers now by protesting the age classification rating provided by PEGI. Horizons is currently rated PEGI 7 with depictions of implied violence. No mention of gambling at all. If Frontier wants to keep Horizons at PEGI 7, then Engineers must be changed (or removed).

As part of the rating process, publishers complete a questionnaire where they self-assess the nature of the game content. PEGI then cross-checks the information using submitted examination information. What does PEGI say about gambling? (my bold)

27: Moving images that encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling

This refers to types of betting or gambling for money that is normally played/carried out in casinos, gambling halls, racetracks. This does not cover games where betting or gambling is simply part of the general storyline. The game must actually teach the player how to gamble or bet and/or encourage the player to want to gamble or bet for money in real life. For example this will include games that teach the player how to play card games that are usually played for money or how to play the odds in horse racing.

Let’s evaluate the Engineers against these criteria:

(1) Moving images. Check. When rolling for a modification, several sliders moves back and forth across the screen before coming to a halt. Each slider position represents the value of a property of the modified module. A gain on the starting value is represented in blue, while a loss is represented in red.

(2) Traditional means of gambling. Check. The mechanism in Engineers is analogous to that used by slot machines. Money (materials) are submitted, causing several reels to rotate (sliders to traverse). If the symbols on each reel match up (sliders land in the right-hand side of the image), then a monetary (ship performance) reward is issued.

(3) Encourage/teaching the use of games of chance. Given the clear analogy between the Engineers and slot machines, I think it is reasonable to say that Horizons teaches users how to play a slot machine. A player who has a positive experience with Horizons (i.e. some good module modifications without too much grinding) may have a more positive view towards slot machines, thus I also believe that players could unwittingly be encouraged to gamble.

A PEGI 12 rating would be more representative of the game’s content. With this in mind, I submitted a complaint to PEGI last Monday (23/10). I’ll post an update if/when I receive a response, although I would encourage other players who are sick of Engineers to lodge similar complaints in order to catch the attention of the PEGI staff.

In the event that the rating was to change to PEGI 12, I doubt that anything would happen since most people ignore the age ratings. However, I would hope that developers start thinking about developing substantial gameplay instead of a randomised mechanic which makes a mockery of the considerable effort made by players.

Frontier needs to show more respect to their customers by producing games with features that are fair and accessible.


Elite Dangerous: Getting to Those Hard to Reach Places

Slightly relevant music recommendation: Reach High, The Commodores.

You didn’t think with the election going on that I had forgotten about Elite Dangerous?  Of course not, I’ve had the time to take another trip to explore another part of the Milky Way. This time  I travelled in a direction normal to the galactic plane, i.e. I went upwards; or was it downwards?

Firstly, a bit of background to exploration: Whenever you complete a discovery scan (also called “honking” because of the noise made when the scan terminates), accessing the system map will give you the gamer tag of the first player who did a detailed surface scan of a body and cashed it in at a Universal Cartographics. An object which has never been scanned and submitted will have a blank space where the gamer tag should be. These systems are up for grabs by whoever scans them first. If you have even a gram of vanity, you will not be able to resist finding undiscovered systems so that you can get your gamer tag out there for all to see.

Around the bubble, virtually all unexplored systems will have been “tagged” by another player. For those starting out, it looks like a several thousand LY trip is in order. However, there is a trick. Most players tend to travel along the galactic plane, leaving many systems above and below the bubble uncharted. If one travels upwards and outwards, they will likely encounter undiscovered systems much sooner than if they just travel in-plane.


While doing another trip to a several nearby nebulae (clockwise from top left: Pipe (Bowl) and Pipe (Stem); Pencil Nebula; Eight Burst Planetary Nebula; Seagull Nebula), I identified a neutron star, PREAE THEIA QY-Y D1-0 A, a heady 1054 LY above the galactic plane during another sweep of the galaxy map. If nobody had been there before, then I could claim my first neutron star! It was also an opportunity to use the updated route plotter introduced in update 2.4 which can now plot routes up to 22 kLY in length!

While using the route plotter, I encountered a problem. A route could not be plotted because the distance between stars exceeded the ~52 LY jump range of my Asp Explorer. Away from the galactic plane, the density of systems reduces, making travelling between them either difficult or impossible. What can I do to get to my target system?

Fortunately, there are a few ways to temporarily increase the jump range of your ship. The first is using materials (i.e. atomic elements) to synthesise an FSD injection which can boost the range by 25%, 50%, or 100% depending on the materials used. Materials can be collected on planets while driving an SRV. The other option is to supercharge the FSD by flying through the ejection cone of a neutron star or a white dwarf star. The latter option was not viable since there weren’t any neutron stars along the way.

Twice on the trip, I stopped by planets that had Cadmium, Niobium and Polonium. Polonium was critical for synthesising the 100% boost which was the only viable option close to my destination. This means driving the SRV along the planetary surface looking for objects which yield the materials. Metallic meteorites give the best yields, I was lucky to twice encounter groups of three which gave me more than enough materials to do all the necessary boosted jumps.

One thing I learned to appreciate when travelling through the low stellar density region high up above the galactic plane was that the amount of fuel carried was an important factor. Jump range increases as fuel goes down, there were a few occasions where a jump was almost possible, but I was carrying too much fuel and had to use a higher grade FSD boost than I would have liked. Some kind of fuel dump mechanism would be a great addition to the game for when users are in these situations. Some creative players bring along a rail gun or plasma accelerator with an engineered plasma slug effect. Ammunition is created from fuel, one just needs to fire the weapon until they have the fuel level that they require.

Eventually, after manually navigating between  stars with the appropriate level of boost, I made it to my target. Given the difficulty associated with getting to it, I was pleased to find that it was indeed undiscovered. My commander now has a neutron star added to his collection of first discoveries.


One thing I noticed while parked near the star was that it made a ticking noise. Cool. It’s hard to tell looking side on, but the main jet in the ejection cone moves about in a precessing motion. Getting a bit closer, the helical form of the jet becomes clearer:


Nearby ~100 LY away (just within reach with a 100% FSD boost on low fuel), there was another neutron star, PREAE THEIA TJ-X D2-0 (1096 LY above galactic plane) which I also got to tag. It’s unlikely that these stars would ever get close enough to collide as we have just observed in real life. While I was up here, I got to admire the view of the galaxy below, or above? It reminds me of looking down at the luminous nighttime Christchurch skyline from Dyers Pass Rd:

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 23_09_2017 12_21_51 AM

On they way back to the bubble, I found some more interesting nebulae in the galaxy map which I’ll be sure to visit in the future. Following my experiences way above the galactic plane, I went straight to purchasing and engineering an Anaconda, once done, it should have a maximum jump range of ~63 LY, which will be necessary for getting to even harder to reach places.

If you’re keen on getting some hard to reach discoveries of your own, my advice is: (1) get the longest jump range that you can, use a DBX, Asp Explorer or Anaconda for this and engineer the FSD. (2) Collect materials for FSD boosts and learn to supercharge your FSD in a cheap ship near to the last station that you docked at. (3) Be judicious with fuel scooping, too much fuel will prohbit you from making some jumps, while too little fuel will leave you phoning for help. Don’t let any of that put you off, as the Commodores song goes: you can get it if you reach high, all hands to the sky. You can make it, if you really try!

How not to Write About Immigration

I’m not a fan of Duncan Garner, the prominent New Zealand political commentator turned frontperson for +HR=E’s The AM  Show morning breakfast show. I find his analysis to generally be quite shallow and his editorialising tends to be a rather ham-fisted attempt at political populism.

Last Saturday, Garner managed to outdo himself with a Fairfax opinion piece on the touchy political issue of immigration. From the laughably inane opening about shopping for underwear, he then described the group of people waiting at the checkout queue in the most extraordinarily insensitive fashion. He then rattled off a series of barely coherent one sentence paragraphs about how immigration might affect New Zealand and policies relating to immigration.

Condemnation has been swift, Garner quit Twitter because he couldn’t stand the blowback from his ridiculous article. I think Garner deserves all the criticism directed towards him, because his article lacked the nuance that the topic of immigration requires. He focused too much on deplorable objections to immigration such as listing off nationalities who he presumably thinks don’t fit in, coded appeals to “our legacy” and apocalyptic  predictions of the future.

It is important to handle the topic of immigration with a great deal of sensitivity. Movement of people is a critical part of most national economies and a key facet of the careers and lifestyles of individuals. However, discussions on immigration brings  the prejudice and racism of the public against other groups to the fore. When discussing immigration, I think it’s important to primarily keep two things in mind:

(1) Reciprocity. Consider what effect your preferred immigration policy would have on you if you were immigrating to another country? For example, with my career trajectory I could reasonably expect to find myself working overseas. Thus, it would be unfair for me to deny the same opportunity to others to come and work in New Zealand.

(2) Prejudice against ethnic groups is irrational and immoral. An immigration policy must not inhibit migrants according to their ethnicity. It must apply equally to everybody. Garner’s article implicitly failed this test since he wasn’t complaining about white British immigrants standing in the checkout queue.

There has been a reversal in political polarity in New Zealand regarding immigration. A cursory glace at American and European politics in particular will leave one with the general impression that the Left is supportive of immigration, while the political Right are against it. It’s almost the other way around in New Zealand. Labour campaigned on policies that would have the effect of reducing the number of people immigrating to New Zealand, while the National government has presided over record levels of net migration. As a partisan Leftist, I need to be able to explain that a reduction in the migration rate is not always a nefarious action committed only by deplorable racialists. Let’s go!

Population growth without investment and regulation only serves to generate misery for everyone. Infrastructure and housing supply have failed to keep up with demand. This harms both New Zealand citizens and recent migrants. Returning migration rates to earlier levels would give the government added scope to intervene in the economy to update infrastructure and increase the housing supply, alleviating the suffering of all people living in New Zealand.

Anti-immigration sentiment also tends to include faux-concern for the plight of local workers, characterised by the immortal South Park line “Dey took ‘er jerbs!”. Migrants have been blamed for pricing domestic workers out of the labour market. Such blame is misplaced. Lousy pay and work conditions are the fault of employers, not migrants. Many migrant workers have been exploited, a conscious decision made by employers and shareholders interested only in maximising their wealth.

Policies such as compulsory unionism for migrant workers and monitoring their working conditions would serve to reverse the exploitation that has been allowed to flourish under the National Party’s governance. Another worthwhile regulation would be something along the lines of: “have a go at training up an unemployed young person, then you can hire somebody from overseas”. This would create more opportunities for the youth of New Zealand who have a lot to be despondent about lately.

Such policies would likely reduce the net migration rate due to fewer work visas being approved, but could not be characterised as racist since any reduction in migration is not intentional. Those who do migrate to New Zealand deserve the same quality of life that citizens enjoy. It is a form of prejudice to deny them that.

It is indeed possible to discuss immigration in a responsible manner without people getting (rightfully) angry on Twitter. All one needs to do is show empathy, not express prejudice, and value the well-being of present and future migrants. Duncan Garner couldn’t do any of these things, so he shouldn’t complain that others have chosen to take issue with his remarks. We deserve better journalists.

NZ 2017 Post-Election Limbo: My Thoughts

One and a half weeks ago, the people of New Zealand went to the polls to determine the make up of our next Parliament. Election night was a letdown for all sides, with no established bloc able to command a majority. Like 1996 and 2005, New Zealand First finds itself holding the balance of power*.

Firstly let’s note that National didn’t win. While it’s disheartening to know that ~46% of voters are either gullible or sociopathic, the centre-right is in trouble. Its coalition partners have either been taken out or rendered irrelevant. For National to stay in government, they need to do a deal with either NZF or the Greens.

Coalition negotiations have not begun yet, largely in part because special votes are still being processed and the final result may result in a few seats changing hands. Winston Peters, the leader of NZF has shown little interest in starting negotiations until the final result is clear. And fair enough, there’s no point coming to an agreement now that could be jeopardised when circumstances will change.

In this vacant period, news media and political operatives have started interviewing their typewriters and put out some truly dreadful dreck during the past week. Let’s go through those now:

National has a right to govern: No it doesn’t, and it’s unsettling that commentators are claiming that National has some kind of “moral” authority (warning: NZ Herald) to form the next government. Besides the fact that “National” and “morality” don’t belong in the same sentence, there is no constitutional stipulation that the largest party has priority when forming a government.

National/Green coalition: This idea is frankly ridiculous. Environmentalism and right-wing politics are fundamentally incompatible. When the right wing stop putting money and conservative organised religion before everything else, then there may be a case to be made. The Green Party would be nothing more than window dressing to make National look better. All of the analysis behind it is completely unwarranted as the Green Party membership can (and will) block the parliamentary Greens from coalescing with National.

Trying to read Winston: NZF has always promoted a weird mixture of left and right policy, hence both sides are quick to point out similarities and proclaim that NZF should go with them. I think James Shaw was correct to point out the common ground between Labour, Green and NZF during his election night speech. It’s much easier to imagine the three agreeing on a policy schedule that doesn’t deviate too far from what they campaigned on. Meanwhile, it’s hard to see National abandoning free-market economics and cutting immigration rates.

Peters hasn’t appreciated this idle speculation while the votes are still being counted and nobly insists that personal issues with the National Party will be put aside during negotiations. I don’t think he will be able to detach his feelings towards National and I don’t expect him to. National ran a deplorable campaign filled with lies, hollow bribes and dirty attacks that almost pushed NZF out of parliament. It’s not just a matter of personal relations, National cannot be trusted to govern fairly and transparently in the interests of all New Zealanders. It is my opinion that Peters should not reward such scumbaggery with another term in government.

MMP is Broken: Fairfax let two of their far-right headbangers out of the asylum to attack our quasi-proportional MMP electoral system (Grant’s article is here, du Frense’s is here). Their arguments are nothing more than the characteristic whining sounds made by arrogant National supporters. Apparently it’s an affront that their party has been denied minority rule. The fact of the matter is whoever can muster the support of 50% + 1 seats forms the government.  It makes no difference whether that is one, two, three, or four(!) parties. Common complaints about how small parties holding the country to ransom have popped up again. One just needs to look back to the UK in June to see that the same outcomes are just as possible in FPP systems.

That’s not to suggest that MMP is perfect. The 5% threshold has shown to be unfit for purpose. Parties such as ACT  and United Dunne Future have/had no real constituency to speak of, yet they are/were entitled to parliamentary seats. Meanwhile, NZF in 2008, Colin Craig’s Conservative Party in 2011/2014 and Gareth Morgan’s The Opportunities Party in 2017 gained many more party votes and no seats. I think the threshold should be lowered to 0.8% (i.e. 1 parliamentary seat) to mitigate the disproportionality of micro parties that rely on winning an electorate seat. A lower threshold means less wasted vote, which keeps the National Party further away from power, which is always a good thing.

With National likely to lose more seats once the special votes have been counted, I expect this week will see intensification of the corporatist demands for NZF or the Greens to give National the coronation they believe is their right. I can only hope both minor parties stay strong and will be able to make a deal between Labour and themselves. The three have already shown themselves to be a competent and responsible administration (sort of, the Greens were at arms length during the 48th parliament). We look set to be facing an opportunity for such a government again. I, along with many other New Zealanders encourage Labour, the Greens and NZF to take this opportunity for the good of our country.

*Balance of Power also happens to be the title of the 1986 album by the Electric Light Orchestra. Heaven Only Knows what the outcome will be. Stable government is So Serious, it’s good to see the parties Getting to the Point. The negotiators are living Secret Lives while the negotiation details are hidden from the media. Is it Alright that the National Party was able to run a campaign of Endless Lies?

Dirty Tricks From Aged Care Provider to Cheat Workers out of Pay Rise

A while back, rest home care providers achieved a superb legal victory against the New Zealand government to increase their pay rates. The argument was that workers were denied equal pay on the basis that the industry, which consisted mostly of women had lower wages than equivalent male-dominated industries. The wage increase was supported with a $2 billion cash injection to the aged care sector from the government.

Despite government funding of the pay increase and the lobby group representing companies providing aged care services endorsing the settlement, there are reports of costs being passed on to residents and their families. Today, there is a report that Aberleigh Rest Home in Blenheim will be restructuring their workforce, where care workers are replaced with lower paid “home assistants” who would not be covered by the equal pay ruling.

Such a development is usually met with the usual boilerplate rhetoric from the political right who claim that wage rises will hinder businesses and increase costs. But before we shed a tear for the poor, embattled rest home owners, let’s consider some of the backround behind Aberleigh Rest Home:

Aberleigh is operated by Dementia Care NZ and its co-owners have been in the sector since 1999. Dementia Care NZ owns 9 rest homes across New Zealand and are not publicly listed on the sharemarket, so information about their earnings isn’t accessible to the public.

It is worthwhile to consider the financial situations of some publicly traded aged care providers:

Ryman Healthcare: One of the largest aged care providers in the country. A cursory glance of their press releases illustrates that they have made record profits for the last two years. Indeed. many New Zealanders would have first heard about Ryman in the investment section of the newspaper. And with good reason, shares in Ryman have an excellent return on investment.

Oceania Healthcare: A more recent listing on the NZ Stock Exchange, Oceania reported a net profit in the year to May 31st of ~$45 million. Currently shares have gained 20% since the company was listed on the NZX.

Bupa: An international aged care company which operates rest homes in NZ. In the Australia/New Zealand market unit, their underlying profit for 2016 was $344 million. Their share price on the LSE has increased by ~25% over the past 5 years.

Judging from these market performances, it is clear that the aged care is a highly profitable sector and a great investment for bitter millennials! It’s also clear that these enterprises are not in a desperate financial situation where a wage rise would cripple them, especially when the NZ government claims that it has fully funded the cost of the pay rise.

Without seeing the specifics of Dementia Care NZ financial details, it’s hard to tell if their decision to circumvent the equal pay ruling was done to keep the business afloat or to preserve profitability. However, we may infer that Dementia Care NZ has less than $20 million in assets and has revenue is below $10 million since they are not filing financial statements with the Companies Office.

Given that approved aged care providers receive funding from the Ministry of Health, I believe that the public should have access to the financial details of all these providers. Regardless of the financial situation of Dementia Care NZ, the simple fact of the matter is that their employees should be given this pay rise since it is mandated by law. That the company is trying to avoid paying workers their due serves to reinforce the negative perception of an aged care sector that milks the elderly and their families for the enrichment of shareholders.

The nature of the aged care sector shows how far our society has degraded over the past three decades. Our elders are no longer valued for who they are, but valued for the money that the wealthy and powerful can extract from them. I can only hope that the media spotlight and public pressure will force Dementia Care NZ to do right by their employees and give them the pay rise that is their entitlement.