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 in the presence 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.

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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.

NZ 2017, Voting in the Waimakariri Electorate: Dan’s Our Man!

Following up to my endorsement of the Green Party for my party vote, I’m going to cover my candidate vote for the Waimakariri electorate. I have evangelised about the MMP system many times before. In practice, each person has two votes: the aforementioned party vote and a candidate vote. Think of the candidate vote as an FPP sub-election, while the partisan makeup of parliament is largely controlled by the party vote results.

The Waimakariri electorate is unique in the sense that it contains urban centres such as northern Christchurch, Rangiora and Kaiapoi, and large rural area of North Canterbury. Historically, it has been a marginal seat where the margin of victory between the Labour and National candidates is quite small. Subsequently, there has been some media focus on Waimakariri as an indicative “bellweather” that closely reflects the nationwide vote, including the Rangiora Borough School polling booth whose votes have been consistent with the election outcomes since the 1980s.

Like most other electorates, only the National and Labour candidates have a chance of winning. Broadly speaking, it doesn’t actually matter who wins the seat out of these two. There are notable exceptions such as Epsom, where National sabotages its own candidate to let the far-right ACT candidate enter parliament. Since ACT has such a low share of the party vote (and deservedly so), Epsom is in effect an extra free seat to the right-bloc. The electorate of Ohariu no longer contributes to this distortion since Peter Dunne stood down.

In terms of local issues, transportation is my number 1 issue. Waimakariri experienced significant population growth following the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. For example, car traffic from North Canterbury into Christchurch quintupled over six years! Infrastructure has not kept pace with this expansion, besides some currently incomplete sections of motorway and some badly positioned subdivisions. More urban sprawl is not an adequate answer. A more enduring solution would be to reduce our reliance on cars as the main mode of transportation. Regrettably, National is inherently weak on this issue and Labour’s Christchurch transport policy does not give many specifics for the Waimakariri district.

Another relevant issue is healthcare. Under National, after hours GP services were cut with the expectation that people could go to Bealey Avenue for services. National then bribed the electorate with a “health hub”, but we still don’t have after-hours services! But since the bribe worked, there’s no need to actually deliver it. Healthcare in general will be a big issue due to National’s failure to keep spending in line with population growth.

Being a semi-rural electorate, National’s fake scaremongering about Labour’s water policies will galvanise the agricultural sector’s support for the Tories. Of course, I see no problem with charging those who use and profit from the country’s natural resources, indeed we already do so with mining and petrochemicals. I lost a lot of respect and sympathy for farmers following the unhinged protest held in Morrinsville.

All up, National candidate Matt Doocey has done nothing to earn my candidate vote. That his party happens to be a bunch of disgusting, lying frauds doesn’t help either. Thus by default, my vote shall be going to Labour candidate Dan Rosewarne. Rosewarne has the best change of unseating Doocey, who will crawl into parliament on the list. More importantly, he has a very accomplished background in military/peacekeeping service, disaster relief and he has a great vision for a fairer society.

While I have expressed my enthusiasm towards the Green public transport policy, a vote for the Green candidate won’t go anywhere and will in fact make things easier for Doocey. I would encourage left voters nationwide, regardless of whether they are Labour, Green, or New Zealand First to back the strongest non-National candidate. In most cases, that will be the Labour candidate, while it will be the NZF candidate in one or two electorates.

Combined, we have outnumbered National party candidate in marginal seats like Waimakariri. Our partisan interests will be represented by our party votes, but we should do all that we can to curb the National Party’s influence. That means stopping their candidates from winning electorates by using better tactics.

 

 

My Endorsement for NZ 2017: Let’s Vote Green!

Advance voting is already open, but the main voting day is just 1 week away. For some reason opinion polling is still going on even though people are voting. On the left, the mood is tense: are we leading, or are we doomed for another defeat? While there is still strong left policy being released, Labour has made headlines for capitulating to corporate media demands that it announce specific tax details (presumably so that the corporate media can then denigrate the policy). The National Party is only too happy to stoke the scaremongering instead of putting the spotlight on their own policies.

Such a strategy is understandable when one considers how terrible National Party policies are. Recent policies include such economic illiteracy as giving away taxpayers’ money to house-buyers to make housing more “affordable”. This is akin to trying to put out a fire with gasoline, although I’m sure that talentless real estate agents (how tautological!), property speculators, and delusional first home buyers will like it. It shows that the National Party’s feigned concern for low-income earners paying taxes to support middle-class university students was nothing more than a sham. They are obviously happy to give low-income earners’ tax dollars to the comparatively wealthier first home buyers.

National has also put forward some pork-barrel privatisation in the form of selling Landcorp farms to young farmers. It smacks of tone-deafness in an election campaign where public sentiment is very much against to overseas ownership. Such damaging policies in conjunction with their terrible record in government demonstrate why it is imperative that the National Party is removed from office.

The parties best placed to offer a strong alternative government are the Labour Party and the Green Party. New Zealand First and The Opportunities Party are respectively too unreliable and too unpopular. I have decided to give my party  vote to the Green Party, for the following reasons:

  • Green Infrastructure Fund: In order to boost the uptake of renewable energy and sustainable technology, this policy involves a government kick-start to an investment fund that will lend money to those wishing to install green technologies. Private investment will be attracted by the initial government investment and the targeted 7% rate of return. I like these kinds of policies because they exploit the current economic paradigm, making a mockery of those who dismiss green tech as “financially infeasible”. Other policies such as the Kiwi climate fund (a carbon tax used to cut other taxes), tree planting, a commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and fossil fuel divestment also have my support.
  • Money for Students’ sake: A series of policies that involve a universal student allowance for postgraduate students (those who most deserve it) and free public transport for students. They have also indicated their support for Labour’s three free years of tertiary study. It is heartening to see the left move away from the user-pays model for education. User-pays is a good idea for pollution control and resource consumption, but it is not a good fit for education. It is unnecessary to force tuition fees on students when the public benefits from their skills and they will indirectly pay for their education in the form of higher income taxes.
  • Cash for Trash: Whenever I look on a Pump/h2go bottle, there is a little note to the effect of “10c refund at SA collection depot”. This note is because of South Australia’s container deposit scheme. If you collect discarded bottles, cans or cartons and return them to a collection depot, you are given a 10c refund from the purchase of the bottle. Thus there is an incentive to dispose of empty containers in a responsible fashion rather than allowing trash to accumulate in the ecosphere.
  • Public Transport in Christchurch: If there’s one thing that will improve my quality of life, it’s this policy. Living in the Waimakariri and Selwyn districts, workers face long commutes into Christchurch. I am fortunate that I am able to set my work hours to avoid the worst of the traffic, but there are much better ways I can spend an hour of my day instead of driving. On buses and trains, I could read, mark undergraduate work, or do work on a laptop computer. I would then have more free time since I could spend less time physically at my office for the same amount of work completed. There are also wider benefits: fewer cars on the road means reduced emissions and faster commutes for those who still need to travel by car.
  • That old devil called the 5% threshold: Ever since the disproportionate indignation towards Metiria Turei’s admission of welfare fraud and the rise of Jacindamania, the Green Party polling has not looked as healthy. If any party receives less than 5% of the vote and no constituency seats, then it gets no parliamentary representation. It is unlikely that Labour will be able to govern alone and if National leads Labour, then they benefit from a wasted sub-5% Green vote. Note that New Zealand First also has this problem; I would encourage voters to support NZF if one can tolerate their more retrograde social policies.

Presuming a Labour-Green government is the outcome of the election, I can’t expect all of these policies to be implemented. Deals will need to be struck and the negotiation strength of the Greens will be proportional to the seats that they win. Labour Party policies are also very good, so I have no issue, in fact an expectation that the Greens will enter into a coalition with them.

Continuing with the neoliberal status-quo is not the safe and dependable option that National has made it out to be. Change is necessary to respond to looming challenges such as climate change, the reappearance of fascism and an economy transformed by technology. Labour and the Greens offer change for the better, with policies that seek to improve the quality of life in New Zealand. That is a change worth voting for on September 23.

This endorsement is only for the party vote, I’ll cover the candidate vote for the Waimakariri electorate later next week (hint: I’ll be endorsing the Labour Party candidate).

New Zealand Election 2017: Fake News Makes an Appearance

The current state of play in New Zealand’s general election is radically different from two months ago. Then Labour Party leader Andrew Little valiantly stepped aside in favour of the charming and articulate Jacinda Ardern who has done well to communicate a raft of popular policies. The public has responded in turn, Labour has now led the National Party for two successive One News/Colmar Brunton opinion polls.

Where there’s strong Labour polling, desperate National party dirty tricks follow. This week, finance minister Steven Joyce claimed that Labour had failed to account for $11.7 billion of announced spending. This claim has widely been regarded as false, even by right-wing economists. Much of the spending will in fact be paid for from operating expenses. Humourously, it has also been revealed that Joyce failed 8 economics papers at university (which he attended for free). The events of this week have demonstrated that he is unfit to serve as finance minister.

Even though swathes of analysts have dismissed Joyce’s claim, the fact that the media reported it in the first place has the potential to cause unwarranted damage to Labour’s electoral fortune. The only person who has piped up in agreement with Joyce was Prime Minister Bill English. As a Catholic, it comes as no surprise that he doesn’t have a problem accepting falsehoods.

So let’s tentatively say the fake news budget hole backfired on the Tories. More fake news was ready to take its place. This time it’s from the obscure Down syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs who have taken issue with Ardern’s pledge to decriminalise abortion. Saving Downs doesn’t like this stance and decided to extract sympathy for their position by fabricating an image to make it look like Labour’s policy was more extreme and would allow abortions up until birth.

By plying fake news about Labour Party policy, Saving Downs has played into the hands of anti-choice interests. The anti-choice viewpoint is generally dishonest and morally inconsistent (try it for yourself). We should respect the bodily autonomy of pregnant people who should be able to choose to terminate their pregnancy for any reason at any time. Those reasons include results from (optional) medical tests that suggest the quality of life of the resulting person may be compromised.

The Labour Party is to be commended for putting forward a strong economic vision that rightfully makes wealthy property owners, resource extractors and polluters pay more tax. At the same time, Labour is committing to spending on initiatives that will provide more opportunities for the public. Similarly, Jacinda Ardern should be commended for front-footing New Zealand’s shameful criminalisation of abortion by advocating for the rights of pregnant people. Conversely, fake news purveyors such as Steven Joyce and Saving Downs must be condemned by the mainstream media in the strongest terms possible. Our democracy must be protected from the manipulation of the populace that fake news seeks to achieve. I can only hope that future polling (and the election result) shows that Kiwi voters see straight through these deplorable tactics.

New Zealand Election 2017: A Tale of Two Political Spectra

I have largely been isolated from the election campaign being away in the Northern Hemisphere. When I left New Zealand, the media hysteria over Green Party leader Metiria Turei’s resignation was coming to an end and Jacindamania was in full swing. While I’ve been away, low quality broadcaster Mike Hosking revealed himself to be a racist and a dumbarse, Peter Dunne gave up and Gareth Morgan was able to gain some attention by being Trump-like.

In our heavily metricised society, even political opinions can be quantified. This usually takes the form of a two axis economic-social map. You are asked a series of relevant questions, your answers dictate the position of your personal co-ordinate on the map. The benchmark for this is the Political Compass. I’ve also had a look at TVNZ’s  Vote Compass, a NZ specific political spectrum calculator.

Since I only have one personality, my position on both charts is very similar. Here’s my Political compass result relative to their assessment of the NZ political parties:

NZ_polCompass_wMe

and my VoteCompass result:

NZ_voteCompass

The big difference between the two charts is the position of the Labour Party. The Political Compass denotes Labour as centre-right economically and slightly socially authoritarian. Like every other Western social democratic party, it’s had an identity crisis during this neoliberal error era. Meanwhile, TVNZ’s Vote Compass marks Labour as extreme economic left and socially progressive.

Not that I’m complaining, I’m thrilled that Labour is a liberal-left party that is closely in line with my thinking. Although I can’t help but wonder if this placement can be used by disingenuous commentators and hacks to attack Labour as “far-left” in an attempt to dissuade their increasingly large support base? Maybe TVNZ has exaggerated the difference so that the politically uniformed don’t falsely declare: “they’re all the same”?

Perhaps the Political Compass is a bit pessimistic, I’ve been impressed with Labour’s policy releases so far. These include: some free tertiary education, making water users cover the cost of their damaging activities and strong public transport investment are all ideas I am on-board with. Where I diverge from Labour is in my radicalism. Relevant to the examples above, I think that three years of free tertiary education is not enough and more should be done to limit the use of ICE-powered vehicles.

But the choice is clear: I can either get some of what I want, or I can get lots of things I don’t want; such as more privatisations, illusory GDP growth and more user pays (unless you’re a dairy farmer). Far-left, or centre-right, labels shouldn’t really matter. Policy should. Exactly which party I’ll vote for is still to be determined, but given the policies it will clearly be for a Labour-led government.