Archive for March, 2017

Universal Te Reo

Posted: March 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

The Greens had the first policy launch of the year, arguing for universal teaching of Te Reo in Primary schools, intermediates, and to a limited degree in Secondary schools. (that is, as a core curriculum subject for Years 1-10) This is not entirely unprecedented1, and it is a reasonable reaction to the still-declining ability of Māori to actually hold a conversation in their own language. I had meant to talk about this earlier but other events displaced my work on this post, so you can have it on delay instead.

Some would argue that this is a hippy-dippy thing for a party to promote, but I think that’s probably because very few of them have actually sat down and read up on the matter like I did after the policy announcement. (despite being a language nerd and being in favour in principle, I wanted to know the statistics around this and familiarize myself with a few of the broad issues facing educators and students in this space)

The last information2 we have is that Te Reo is only available in less than 50% of New Zealand schools. As an official language with legal recognition in New Zealand, (fun fact: this means Te Reo Māori actually has a higher formal status than English in New Zealand law, as English has no legislative status despite being a de facto official language) Te Reo Māori deserves better. Also included in the policy, but not being talked about, is a push for better access to Māori sign language for the intersection of the deaf and Māori communities, which is incredibly important. As a second-language speaker myself, I can definitely say that my brief experiences with not always being able to accurately explain New Zealand culture were not just frustrating but incredibly alienating, and that’s only a small taste of what children who don’t even have the vocabulary to understand and discuss their own culture because they’ve only ever been taught signs for European cultures must feel.

Because we’re mostly talking about primary and intermediate schools, (plus the first two years of secondary) the usual practice is that all education is considered core education, and the differences come about in optional parts of the curriculum that each school decides to cover, so in practice it would no longer be an option not to learn Te Reo in Years 1-8 once it is available in all schools, however arguably there might be some flexibility for secondary school students depending on how universality is handled there that might make the last two proposed years non-compulsory. I think the benefits grossly outweigh the compulsion required, as with compulsory education in English language.

All this is essentially talking about is teaching basic vocabulary and rote phrases to young kiwis. Advanced language learning where people are actually taught language structure and how to compose their own sentences without rote memorisation is usually left until Year 11 in language education, although given how early the Greens want to start, (as usually languages other than English don’t start until Year 9) it’s possible that advanced grammar could be taught much earlier in terms of what school year it’s introduced in while still going slower than the secondary school pace of second-language education, in which case, great.

This would have the pleasant side-effect of improving education of English as students not failing Te Reo would have some basic understanding of grammar. Te Reo grammar is much less complicated than English grammar, so they’d still both need to be covered either separately or comparatively, but they would likely need to become familiar with concepts of what nouns are, what verbs are, how plurals work, what pronouns are, and how possessives, indefinite articles, and definite articles work, even though a few of those things differ in Te Reo.

And language nerdery aside, it’s shown that education that integrates Māori culture and language is much more effective for Māori students, (as you would expect!) which means it will help provide equality of opportunity in education, and that language revitalization efforts integrating compulsory education into the mix is very effective, and giving it status as a core subject that everyone needs to learn will help remove the element of peer-pressure that is likely contributing to declining ability in Te Reo.

And on the benefits for non-Māori students, the UK has had a lot of benefits migrating to a very similar policy of compulsory second language education3, although there have been challenges in up-skilling the workforce to cope with it that they still haven’t met, which we would likely encounter as well, and would thus need to aggressively plan for. And unlike generic second language education, compulsory Te Reo should lead to much increased racial harmony between other ethnic groups in New Zealand and Māori due to increased ability to understand the Māori perspective and participate meaningfully in Māori culture, which can only be a good thing.

Overall it’s a well-founded bit of policy, and it’s shot across the bow in terms of values: the Greens know it’s not a general vote-grabber to propose policy that benefits Māori, but it’s a debate they want to have and reverse public perception on as part of their planned win. This is much like what Cunliffe managed to do with wealth taxes, despite his loss, (which was due to other reasons) and it’s the right way to campaign in an election year. Despite being in a populist mood, people will always prefer a genuine party with values to an establishment one without, and populism is best aimed at things the people most care about, so let’s hope that Labour has also understood that lesson from both 2014 and 2016.

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Well, it’s a little too early to tell yet, but there’s an interesting development in this month’s Colmar Brunton poll, that if the next poll bears it out, could be a bit of an own-goal for Labour. Please excuse (or skip, at your leisure) the following horse-race analysis, I know we get a bit much of that style of discussing the election in general, but this is an angle I haven’t seen much from coverage. (as usual, I’m more cautious than average on drawing conclusions from single polls, but this one is such a sharp uptick that I’d be surprised if it didn’t mean anything)

This is the first poll after Labour’s Māori caucus announced they’re not going to give themselves a Party List parachute.

Māori are very accustomed to being able to split their list and electorate votes in many electorates, from that time that NZ First swept the Māori electorates, to the birth of the Māori Party, to the endorsement of Hone’s split into the Mana Party, it’s basically a tradition now that many, if not most, Māori electorates will have a likely option for vote-splitting. It was looking like Labour was strategically thinking about trying to lock the Māori Party out of parliament using a high-risk strategy that called the bluff of vote-splitters, because their public protestations that they’ll work out a deal with whoever’s in government doesn’t tell people what they’ll actually do if they’re the party that gets to decide between National and a Labour-Green coalition. (you can see her stick to the line that she’ll work with either type of government at the end of this interview, which you should listen to anyway as she has a fair point about unconscious bias in policing) That refusal has lead to Labour’s point of view that they need to be treated as a potential National Party support party and fought against hard, which makes a certain amount of sense, especially when Labour sell themselves as hard electorate-based campaigners who respect local politics.

But it looks like, maybe, if the next poll or two bears it out, that Labour’s strategists underestimated how much people want to vote-split, as the Māori party got a big boost in their Party Vote standing after the announcement, almost to the threshold in fact, with the Māori electorates wanting a local Labour MP deciding that maybe they’ll think about giving their Party Vote to the Māori Party given that way they’ll actually get some more Māori voices in Parliament from their list vote. Yet another example that we do understand tactical voting under MMP reasonably well as a country, if not perfectly. If this poll were to reflect the election result, the Māori Party would in fact be in that position to decide which type of government they wanted, at least assuming New Zealand First rules out working with National after the election. (that assumption is the only scenario that the Māori Party would ever get to decide)

So, if this bump is real, and they can grab a quarter again as much support by the election, the Māori Party might become a genuine fifth party in New Zealand politics, and have secured a future above the threshold that no longer relies entirely on the Māori seats, assuming they can keep it. They’ll probably want to get their hands on an electorate again too in this election, just in case, but Labour have now handed them an argument for the Party Vote of voters on the Māori roll: “give Labour your electorate vote if you have to, but there aren’t enough of our people on their list, so vote for us with your Party Vote and you get two for one.”

Interestingly, this growth in the centre didn’t really hurt Labour too much, (less than a percent, and this is the first time since 2016 started that Labour is over 30% in two consecutive polls, so they’re definitely climbing) if it did come from their vote, they’ve made up most of the change in reductions to National, the Conservatives, and TOP.

It also complicates figuring out who’s government if Labour and the Greens can close the gap with the government by growing another 2-3% or so, as a Māori Party that’s threatening to cross the threshold might be able to act as a real alternative in coalition talks to New Zealand First, which would potentially create the space for the first all-progressive coalition since the Alliance imploded, or it might be a requirement that there be a four-way arrangement between Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First, and the Māori Party in order to change the government. This would lead to a very different dynamic in the elections and the politics than might be expected.

It also appears that regular pre-election polling has now arrived given that we’ve gotten three whole polls in March, so this will be really good in terms of telling what’s going on politically and whether policies and rhetoric are having an effect or not. We’ll likely be getting at least two polls a month every month from here on given that Colmar Brunton also published a One News poll in February, too. While I think assuming current polling is going to lead to a certain type of election result is the bad type of horse-race analysis, analysing polls can be useful if you keep track of what political events happen between polls where interesting changes in trend happened. We’ll see if this turns out to be one of them, I’m inclined to think it will be, but again, two or three polls establish a trend.

As usual, I refuse to entertain preferred Prime Minister as a metric, so I won’t be discussing developments in that polling, as it’s so unscientific as to be wholly divorced from predictive power, it’s mainly just there as red meat for journalists. (a job that could be achieved while still providing a useful political metric either by doing approval rating on the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, or simply by closing up the question so that people can only answer with actual Party Leaders, as nobody has ever made it to PM without being a Leader too)

For those of you not following international news, Scotland is beginning the process of nicely asking the UK government to please let it vote on whether it still wants to be part of the UK, again, please and thankyou. While Scotland can’t really hold a binding vote without the UK saying so, the UK also can’t really claim to legitimately represent Scotland if it refuses a well-founded request for a referendum, and there is a lot of evidence that suggests that the tide may now have turned in favour of Scottish independence from the UK, and its re-admittance into the EU. It’s a bold power-move on the day before Theresa May was expected to trigger Arcticle 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, basically pushing the one-year timer on leaving the EU. It has turned Westminster’s vision of a new, global Britain upside down, and arguably into what it already is: a path that risks the very future of the United Kingdom itself, stoking Scottish nationalism and calls for Irish re-unification. Theresa May, of course, has denied that the timing Nicola Sturgeon wants is practical, and will turn down such a referendum proposal. This of course, puts the onus back on the UK government to outline when they would consent to a referendum, which of course has strategically been kept quiet, because it’s more about trying to bully Scotland into staying than actual concerns around the Brexit negotiation. We’ll see how the showdown between the two works out, but so far I’m scoring it to Scotland overall.

For those who are not aware, I am actually a United Kingdom dual national, and have lived (briefly) in England, but the advantage of living in New Zealand for most of my life is that I can have a degree of understanding of the UK while still being seperate enough to see it from the outside. My position has been that the UK is England-centric, and needs to reform its government on a federal basis with a more representative voting system if it wants to hold on to the other three countries-within-its-country, and that if Scotland really want to be independent they should get their wish. (At which point, I would probably never return to the UK to live even briefly, as it would have gone so far downhill as to hold no appeal- nobody will really like a UK where the Tories have a stranglehold on politics once they’ve experienced it, in my opinion)

The Scottish Nationalist Party (which controls the majority of both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish seats in the UK Parliament) is coming under some arguably unfair criticism that this is part of a “neverendum,” (ie. continuously polling people on independence referendums until one succeeds and then immediately declaring victory) of trying to set up IndyRef2 to lead to a more winnable IndyRef3, (which is not only stupid tactically, but just plain wrong- that timing argument revolves around the misconception that the Referendum is being proposed before relevant details of the Brexit deal are finalised, when in fact the parts Scotland most strongly objects to have already been determined by a Tory UK government, and the First Minister insists on a finalised Brexit position from the UK before a vote happens) and of simply trying to derail Brexit, to which I’d argue you can’t derail something by desperately searching for a pair of rails to get it back onto.

To understand a bit of what’s going on, we need to rewind a little bit before starting on the current situation, and talk about how the EU ended up a little more complicated than an in-or-out relationship. The UK was a lot more “out” already, pre-Brexit talks, than most European nations get to be. It had a special dispensation from the Eurozone, (the name for the area formed by countries which use the Euro as their currency) which Scotland will not get if it rejoins, and an exemption from the Schengen Agreement, which requires abolition of border controls between participating countries, which Scotland would likely also need to agree to in order to re-join the EU. Instead of Schengen, the Republic of Ireland and the UK are in a special exemption that was known as the “Common travel area,” where they’ve agreed to freedom of movement, but still retain the right to check people’s passports and ensure they’re actually EU nationals before admitting them into the UK. This was considered a reasonable compromise for the island nations at the time freedom of movement was proposed, however now that the EU has a formal agreement under the Lisbon Treaty, any new members have to sign up to being 100% in the EU, rather than getting to pick and choose like those who were part of its formation got to. This situation hasn’t differed from the first independence referendum.

The UK is currently part of the European Economic Area, or “single market,” (the EU’s free-trade zone, essentially, which is actually a little bit wider than just EU members) but the Conservative government aims to leave as part of its “hard Brexit” approach, as it’s not possible to opt out of Freedom of Movement, which it wants to do to control immigration, without also leaving the single market. Prior to the Brexit vote and change of Prime Ministers it necessitated, it was considered a ridiculously hard-line position to propose a hard Brexit, as it would essentially be giving away much of London’s financial services industry, either to Ireland or to continental European nations, and none of the leaders of the Leave campaign wanted to commit precisely to a hard Brexit, maintaining that free trade with Europe was possible while still clawing back those immigration powers. (and in the long term, maybe it will be, but not immediately post-exit)
This is as opposed to a “soft Brexit” approach, which is likely what Cameron expected his opposition to advocate, and what was Nicola Sturgeon’s bottom line for Scotland, where the UK would negotiate an exit deal similar to Norway where it retained some degree of free trade and freedom of movement, but could discard roughly 75% of European laws and access/membership of many European institutions in favour of return of sovereignty to the United Kingdom. (which is why a lot of the Remain campaign insisted that Brexit meant either economic shock or inability to claw back control over immigration policy)Now that we’ve covered a bit of EU basics, we can return to Scottish independence. The first independence referendum was an interesting campaign, that largely failed due to two critical campaigns from the No campaign, which was aggressively backed by English MPs:

    That Scotland would be given new powers and the UK would transition to a “near-federal” model.That Scotland would risk its EU membership if it voted for independence, as there was no procedure set up by the EU for secession within member states granting membership to the new nation.

Post-Brexit, many prominent European leaders have made guarantees to Scotland that if they do achieve independence, they will be welcome back in the EU, so let’s dispense with that second argument already. It’s not relevant, everyone knows Scotland has a place in the EU if it can achieve its independence. In retrospect, claims that Scotland risked its EU membership by becoming independent were effective but erroneous scaremongering.

How went the promise of new powers for Scotland? Well, the UK agreed to take less tax away from the local administration… and then promptly went on to kick Scottish MPs out of votes relating solely to England, (making clear that England views the UK Parliament as an English Parliament, belying again that promise of near-federalism) and then in order to secure its Brexit powers in court, sucessfully argued it didn’t need to get permission from Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland to initiate Brexit, even though the law explicitly required it.

Scotland has been agitating since the Brexit vote for a “soft Brexit,” that is, they don’t want England to wreck the entire UK’s economy in its determination to leave the EU. This isn’t an unreasonable position, although it’s unclear whether a compromise between the two positions of the largely-English UK Government and Scottish assembly is even possible, let alone what it would look like. The UK Parliament in Westminster has, essentially, ignored the Scottish Assembly in Holyrood, and proceeded precisely as it wishes thanks to that fundamentally wrong court decision.

So now we’re back to the independence referendum, and Scotland has a legitimate argument that the promises they were made in order to secure a “No” vote have been violated, that their assumption that “No” secured their place in the European Union is clearly incorrect and their attempts to compromise on a soft Brexit have been ignored, and that frankly public opinion may be changing in favour of independence.

This new case for independence is going to pit re-joining the EU against remaining in Brexit Great Britain. And there are disadvantages to both sides- Great Britain means that Scotland’s remaining oil revenue will likely go to collective UK spending, that Scotland will continue to have minimal impact on UK policy, and will be subject to a much more conservative Westminster Parliament controlling much of its law, and even stealing back powers that Scotland currently has.

But rejoining the EU will mean adopting the Euro, which means that Scotland would be vulnerable to potential future crises like the Greek Debt crisis. It also means that Scotland will have difficult financial problems to solve, as current estimates are that it’s a net beneficiary of UK spending compared to its tax take, and under the EU it is likely to be a net taxpayer rather than receive net subsidies. It will have to deal with the realities of joining the Schengen zone. It may be stuck with a UK Northern Ireland to its west and England to its south if calls for an Irish re-unification don’t eventuate, and there will likely need to be some sort of border procedure with England if Scotland does re-enter the EU, as there is no way that England will accept open borders with a country in the Schengen zone. It will also mean a wait for Scotland to rejoin, as it will have to go through the application process, which will mean that Scotland will need to be prepared for life outside of not only the UK if it votes for independence, but also outside of the EU for at least a few months, or even years. It’s also worth noting that the staunchest opposition to Scotland’s re-admittance, from Spain, seems to have softened now that it’s not being compared to the Catalan situation so much.

Scotland is smart to push for IndyRef2 now, while the Article 50 negotiations on the UK leaving the EU are still in the future. If Westminster shows reluctance to allow a Scottish vote on independence, it’s highly likely that as part of their determination to punish the UK for leaving, leaders who are militantly pro-EU will likely push for guarantees for Scotland and Northern Ireland to be able to determine if they want to split and re-enter the EU, as EU members are pretty adamant that the UK will be choosing between what it would call a “bad deal” or “no deal.”

And unlike the first independence referendum, if this one eventuates, it will be much more difficult to find Scottish organisations willing to front another “No” campaign- Scottish Labour has all but collapsed, and all the promises that helped the “No” campaign out last time won’t be credible after Theresa May’s strongarm position on devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

So, I’m noticing, again, that people aren’t very up on the combination of maths and political speculation that you’ll need to understand who’s likely to form the next government.

Firstly, let’s be clear, there are only three parties parties in Parliament right now who have either clearly commited to who they’ll support or for whom it’s obvious despite the fact nobody’s bothered to ask them. Of course David Seymour/ACT will support National. The Greens have been very clear they have committed to support Labour to change the Government. And Peter Dunne/United Future, while they have worked with Clark’s Labour Party, will of course support National ahead of them given half a chance.

Naturally, Labour and National will lead their respective blocs, so if you’d like to count that, there are five parties who you can safely vote for knowing what sort of government they’d support.

There are a couple of things that are unclear. Mana will of course be more likely to support a Labour government if voted back in to Parliament, however will likely be on the outside of any arrangement if Labour is actually governing, so the uncertainty there is in whether people are willing to forgive Hone for his willingness to work with Kim Dotcom. Given that the Māori Party have stood aside and essentially endorsed him, however, he’s not discountable. I wouldn’t be surprised at either a Mana or Labour win in Te Tai Tokerau.

I won’t speculate on the odds of Dunne losing Ōhāriu at this stage, other than to say both Labour and Peter Dunne need to be taking that electorate deadly seriously, especially as I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a significant chunk of it who are fans of neither of the two likely candidates. They will need to reach out to supporters outside of their usual base to win, which is presumably behind Peter Dunne’s hilarious inability to find fonts that support macrons.

This brings us to the two wildcards. Firstly, the Māori Party, who have said they will make a reasonable attempt to work with whoever’s in government, but haven’t talked at all about what happens if they decide the next government. While they’ve most recently been in a non-coalition support arrangement with the National Party, there’s no real certainty that they would support them over Labour. In fact, the List party they best align with on the issues is the Green Party, so if we’re going purely on policy, they might well support Labour. With Tariana Turia’s retirement from the party, the historical disagreements with Labour could be a lot less of an obstacle to doing a deal. In my models, I’ve assumed they will be open to working with governments of both stripes, but I consider them a reverse UF- in that I slightly suspect they will prefer a Labour government if it’s their choice, although I don’t have any hard evidence to back that speculation.

And then there is New Zealand First, who like the Māori Party, haven’t publicly chosen sides yet, and don’t even have the excuse that they still intend to work with both parties, as they’re currently sitting on the opposition benches, collaborating quite nicely with Labour and the Greens. They look like they’re set up to change the government, but they have pulled a switch on their supporters this way before back in the first MMP government. Have they learned their lessons from that? Nobody knows.

Lastly, there’s a little election system maths to consider. The number of overhang seats will be important in this Parliament, as National will need to win a similar percentage of the Party Vote to last election to stay in power, which was already a bit of an ask with John Key at the helm instead of Bill English. They’ll also want a bit of padding, as no government has ever won a by-election under MMP, so if any of their MPs resign, they’ll likely lose a seat.

If all the minor parties win seats, that’s likely to be three overhang seats in Parliament, meaning the “magic number” becomes 62/122-123, not 61/120-121. There’s also a credible chance of an independent upset in Ilam, which would have the weird effect of not changing the number of seats in Parliament at all, but rather robbing whoever would normally have won the 120th list seat of their extra MP. That’s likely to be either National or the Greens, depending on how close the Greens end up getting on their last MP allocation, or on an outside chance it may be Labour. (it’s highly unlikely to be the Māori Party, as small parties generally get allocated their seats way before the end of the process) For those not aware, essentially there’s a divisor formula that goes through and outputs a number for each party with Party Votes, and every one that’s over the threshold or has an electorate gets thrown into the formula. Whoever’s number is the highest gets the first seat, and then their divisor is recalculated on a less friendly basis, and the next-highest number gets a seat, for 120 iterations. Independent MPs are the only disruption to this process- small parties simply get their electorates as overhangs if they don’t qualify for a list seat on the basis of their Party Vote. While Raf Manji is likely to vaguely support National, he does represent a wildcard in terms of who loses a seat to him, and it’s actually as likely to hit Labour or the Greens in the face as it is to cause disruption to a National government.

What are the important takeaways?

  1. It’s very likely that whoever governs after the election will need 62 seats, as I don’t consider it a serious likelihood that both Dunne and Harawira will lose their electorate votes.
  2. If National wants to govern, they need those 62 seats without the Māori Party or New Zealand First, if at all possible. It’s entirely realistic that the National Party could win 59 seats for themselves but lose the government because they only have two seats worth of solid friends, and both the less predictable parties decide to swing Labour’s direction. Likewise, Labour will want a situation where they can narrow the margin enough that they have a choice between New Zealand First and, say, the Māori and Mana MPs, so that he’s not forced into too much of a pro-nationalist agenda, but such a situation looks rather unlikely at the moment without National seriously dropping the ball, or Little scoring some serious body blows on English that he just hasn’t gotten a chance to do yet.
  3. It’s highly likely that New Zealand First will decide who gets to govern based on current polling, if it holds accurate, and if events don’t shift too fast for our sporadic polling to measure accurately. The chance of National governing without them is pretty slim, although it’s now within the realm of reasonable probability. I expect the recent trend back to National to have arrested with the announcement of Jacinda Ardern as deputy, but we’ll see if that eventuates. I also expected that the dip on English becoming PM would become a trend, and that hasn’t eventuated yet, possibly due to poor capitalisation on his weaknesses on behalf of Andrew Little, but again, this is where Jacinda will actually serve very well as deputy: she’s far more persausive with the emotive argument that the Government is failing people than King was, even though Annette King was a highly effective MP and debater, she doesn’t have Ardern’s charisma.
    1. Relevant to Ardern, it’s rather hilarious that the media is now openly speculating on whether it causes a problem for Labour if she overtakes Little in popularity. The answer is no. That’s a great problem for Labour to have, and it’s likely she would want to do further work before even considering the No. 1 spot in her party, so expect for that to happen at some stage and for Jacinda to endorse Little as leader even when she’s more popular than him. Being the most popular isn’t always a qualification to be leader, and that is why people have to put themselves forward as candidates first. If it’s ever a serious issue, Labour will vote on whether she gets to take over, like you would expect, although of course, they’ll tilt the odds in favour of their caucus’ vote for some bizzarre reason.
  4. If you’re giving your party vote or electorate vote to the Māori Party, you might want more information about what their plan is if they’re in a position to decide if Bill English stays Prime Minister or not. They’ve already said they can work with Labour, but would they prefer to? Nobody knows at this point, and the largely vacuous excuses for political journalists we have atm haven’t got the nuance yet that they need to ask a very specific question about this and see if the answer will change or not. (There are real political journalists out there who absolutely would understand this nuance, but they’re never given the job of interviewing or moderating party leaders for this sort of question in a format that significant numbers of NZers watch)
  5. Pushing for Raf Manji to win Ilam is only particularly relevant if National wins back the government again, and his vote becomes relevant for key legislation. (not that in principle I object to Gerry Brownlee being sent a message, or Christchurch having a bit more power in Parliament, those are good things, it’s just unlikely to move the electoral calculus in favour of changing the Government) It’s actually far more relevant to National whether O’Connor stands a chance of unseating Peter Dunne and whether Hone wins Te Tai Tokerau, as unlike the MP he is unlikely to support the National Party.
  6. As before, Preferred Prime Minister is a huge irrelevancy in polling and deserves to be replaced with favourable/unfavourable polling for the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, as the open-ended nature of the question prevents it from being useful as a gauge of whether the leader is an actual drag on either of the biggest two parties, and the lack of data as to whether it has any impact at all on the Party Vote means that experimenting with different metrics is a great idea, in case anyone who actually polls is listening.

So if you’ve been hiding under a hole until recently, Bill English let slip in an interview recently that he wasn’t going to renew John Key’s pledge on not touching superannuation, then, like Labour, went and made it an election issue by announcing he would, in 2040, raise the retirement age by two years. I had meant to get to this issue sooner but have been sidetracked with other priorities.

There are so many sides to this. The first is, Bill English has literally set the cut off for when people should retire with the generation that has borne the brunt of increasing inter-generational warfare waged on behalf of (although not necessarily with the consent of all) Baby Boomers. Gen X, the generation that paid the first student loans, and did it with interest, is being told they’re the ones who will be asked to cut costs if National can govern without a coalition.

First, let’s be real here: while superannuation is less of the national budget in New Zealand than it is overseas, (per capita we spend about half as much as say, European countries do, and get a better system out of it) there’s still a very real affordability problem if we want to maintain government spending in other areas once the Boomers hit super age en masse. (some already qualify, but the real big hit is yet to come) Nobody, even the two parties who were consistent in wanting to maintain super at 65 for the general population, (That’s the Greens and New Zealand First, if you’re curious) is arguing with that fact.

If we’re going to maintain super, we need to look at the revenue side of the equation. Remember how I proposed a solution in search of a problem back when I said we should tax the wealthy? A comprehensive capital gains tax would more than fund Super, in fact, it would go a long way to funding a UBI1. Julie Anne Genter literally has very similar opinions on this issue.

If we take the revenue steps we need to anyway to ensure a more equal society, we can easily afford super, and we can do so off wealth taxes that will effectively act as a means test without all the administrative costs, as wealthy boomers who don’t need Super might well end up paying more in taxes than they receive anyway, but we still receive the benefits of universality in terms of ease of access, reduction to poverty, and incentive to continue working for those who genuinely wish to and are able to.

There is absolutely no need to start a generational war like Bill English has in order to solve that problem when the gap is clearly on the revenue side. Labour’s answer, squirreling away surplus money, is a good thing to do in principle, but there’s no indication it will make a serious dent in the cost. National’s argument that Gen X will still get Super for a longer percentage of their life than Baby Boomers currently do might be a fair one, if it were taken completely outside the generational context it deserved to be placed in. Gen X, and to a larger extent, Millenials and the upcoming Gen Z, are being asked to bear increasing costs on basically everything, coupled with decreasing opportunities and being left political problems that have been dumped in the “too hard” basket for decades, like climate change. This super announcement is one too many kicks in the ribs, and National better hope it doesn’t mobilise younger voters who’ve stayed home, because they are big Green supporters, and a 20% boost to turnout of the youth vote would literally change the electoral maths on this issue.

Politics aside, if we can square those financial challenges away with a bit of a surplus, we should also be considering the points made by the Māori and Mana parties about equity of Super, and their support for some level of flexi super, and/or some reduction to the age of eligibility for Māori and/or people in taxing manual employment. These are absolutely fair ideas that deserve consideration. Let manual workers who struggle to make it to 65 have a bit of super. If there’s any argument to raise the age, it’s so we can afford to let manual labourers and Māori have an equitable piece of the super pie.

Overall, I hope voters will stand together in the coming election and realise that there isn’t a need for this divisive type of politics. We can keep super at its current settings without sacrificing our other spending priorities if we tax the wealthy more fairly, but that will never happen under a National government.

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Take a moment, go view this video, specifically but not exclusively the supplementary questions by Jan Logie, (about 5:35) then come back to this post so you have the background you’ll need.

Done? Thanks. The Ministry of Social Development has made an outrageous decision to hold NGO funding hostage to big data collection. The level of data collection they want might not be a problem for certain NGOs, especially were to compromise and allow an opt-in basis, such as say, ones offering immunisations. But prominent organisations like NZAC1 have expressed that handing over the requested data is a breach of confidentiality and in their view unethical, and Rape Crisis have announced they will boycott government funding if they’re made to disclose any additional data. For context, rape crisis centres are constantly struggling to recieve enough community funding to provide the services they need to even with the government’s help, so this should reinforce that they view this mandatory data-sharing as an existential threat.

As someone who has done data analysis in their work, (I did it even though it wasn’t in my job description, in fact) and who even does it in my spare time to settle matters of debate, I absolutely understand the value of this data to the government, especially in targeting their social assistance dollars more effectively. (because money should be prioritised to places where we can prove it’s effective, for sure) I understand the challenges of incomplete data sets. I also understand the challenges of people misinterpreting what data they need to provide. I will even grant that the people in the government who initially requested this data will want it for nothing other than researching what the most effective types of social spending are, and that they fully intend to be ethical caretakers of people’s private information, and to store it securely.

But none of that makes it a good idea to hold hostage NGO funding to big data. Firstly, there is the obvious issue that services involving counselling or survivors of abusive behaviour absolutely, critically need to be able to provide services on a condition of strict confidentially or even complete anonymity in some cases in order to be able to help people in our society that need it the most.

Not only is it tying the hands of counsellours or volunteers to require them to explain that clients’ data is confidential and private even though it will be provided to MSD, (in addition to being flat out inaccurate- the strict interpretation of confidentiality held to by most such services requires that records be only held in one place, be secured using physical lock-and-key for paper records and encryption for digital ones, and not be shared with anyone else outside of anonymous use in ethical review or in the event that a client is a risk to their own or someone else’s safety) people who have been raped will have difficulty filling out a form identifying themselves when they’re seeking help because they may not be ready to admit what they experienced is real, and writing something down can “make it real.” Jan Logie’s example of men who won’t even give their names is not only accurate but typical of many people seeking support, and not just men. Anyone who accepts this contract is going to be committing to turning away people unable to accept anything less than the strictest confidentiality, or worse, they’re going to entrap themselves into breaching the contract in order to help people.

What adds insult upon insult to this issue, (we’re well past the initial injury if these contracts aren’t amended for services that require confidentiality) is that the government has an expert panel2 helping guide its data strategy that has recommended against precisely this type of mandatory collection in their report3, calling for at least an easily accessible opt-out procedure for all big data collection by Government agencies, so even the proponents of big data don’t want the government to take this approach. Literally the best defense that can be made is that the government is legally allowed to insist that its data collection is more important than anonymity.

If the government wants more data from these services, the most they should reasonably do is require that clients be allowed to opt in to data collection if they’re comfortable with the idea. This allows those receptive to provide a limited data set for analysis, or to ask the questions the government are so keen for their NGO partners to explain, and those not amenable to the idea to dismiss it and still access life-saving services that most likely are incredibly effective uses of funding. If the government can concede that paid leave to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence is effective, they can certainly concede that funding services like Rape Crisis shouldn’t be contingent on mandatory data sharing.

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Not in TOP shape

Posted: March 5, 2017 in elections, New Zealand, technology
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This one is a really quick hit:

I’ve been suspicious this might be the case for a while, but I reached out to Roy Morgan the other day, and they’ve confirmed that TOP’s vote share is so insignificant they still haven’t separated them out from “Other” Parties. (This means that TOP are likely polling consistently below 0.5%. Roy Morgan’s “Other” category has recently been at about 2%, and generally fluctuates between 1-2%, but they split out small parties who round all the way down to 0% from time to time, such as UF and the Conservatives, so this indicates a very low polling for TOP despite their 4% show at the Mt. Albert by-election) I had previously checked in with Colmar Brunton, who said they have not been counting responses for TOP in their previous polls, as they were an unregistered political party at the time, and that is their standard practice.

So, ouch. There go those dreams of certain cheerleaders that a group of policy-wonk technocrats crowdsourcing their policies with a rich bankroll imitating the Green Party would get all the way above the 5% threshold. They’ll need a serious electorate run if they want to get into Parliament, but they didn’t have one planned yet, so that will make things tight, especially as Labour will have no incentive to make space for them given their stated intentions to sit on the cross-bench, and that Labour has already lined up a candidate for every single electorate.

All in all, if nothing changes, TOP’s only relevancy to this election will be how many votes it splits away from the Greens into the “other” pool that gets re-allocated to everyone. I will be advising anyone sympathetic that I don’t think it’s worth risking your Party Vote on them at this stage. The one thing I think other parties should take from TOP is that crowdsourcing policy, especially from experts, is a good idea. But at this stage, that looks like that may be their epitaph.