Better results not ideological obsessions

April 30, 2015

A new funding system for people with disabilities was the subject of this exchange at question time yesterday:

CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour—Kelston) to the Minister of Finance: Is the Productivity Commission report released yesterday indicative of a Government agenda to privatise the welfare system?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No. It is indicative of a Government agenda to get better results for people who really need them. We are happy to debate the kind of toolset that the Productivity Commission has laid out, but I would like to signal to that member and to the Labour Party that we are focused more on getting better results and less on their ideological obsessions. What we are doing is building a system that allows Governments to invest upfront in personalised interventions for the child, the individual, or the family for a long-term impact, and to track the results of that investment. The Productivity Commission has produced a framework that gives the Government a wider range of tools. It has been heavily consulted on with the social service sector to a draft form, and now it will be further consulted on before it gives us a final report. But I expect at the end of that that the Labour Party will be out of step with pretty much everybody by sticking to its 1970s models.

Carmel Sepuloni: Does the Minister intend to establish a voucher system for social services in New Zealand?29 Apr 2015 Oral Questions Page 11 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. We are under way in establishing a voucher system particularly for people with disabilities. It is called Enabling Good Lives. It has been broadly welcomed by the disability sector. I suspect that the mass adoption of it by the Australian Government in the form of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is going to put a lot of pressure on New Zealand to further develop a sophisticated voucher system for people with disabilities. The reason why is that it gives them some choices rather than being subject to a system where the Labour Party tells the providers—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Jami-Lee Ross: What progress has the Government made in delivering better outcomes from social services?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have made considerable progress in focusing on our customers—that is, getting to know much better the circumstances and prospects of those most vulnerable New Zealanders. For instance, a child under the age of 5 who is known to Child, Youth and Family, whose parents are supported by a benefit, and where either parent is in contact with the Department of Corrections—and there are a lot of those families; around 470 of them in Rotorua, for instance—is around five times more likely to end up on a long-term benefit and seven times more likely than the average to get to be in prison before the age of 21. In the light of that information, we feel a moral obligation, as well as a fiscal one, to act now to reduce the long-term costs, and we are not—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Carmel Sepuloni: Does he agree with the findings of the draft Productivity Commission’s report he commissioned that the Government faces incentives to underfund contracts with NGOs for the delivery of social services, with probably adverse consequences for service provision; if so, does he agree that greater contracting out could harm service provision?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I agree with the first one but not the second one. The Government often does deliberately, as a result of Government policy, actually, pay less than the full cost of services, and often the users of those services need a higher level of more sophisticated service that what we currently offer them. There is no evidence at all that contracting out, as the member calls it, will reduce service provision. Sometimes that is the right way to do it. For instance, the Government owns no elderly care beds in New Zealand. It is all contracted out. That has been a bipartisan approach for many years with a highly vulnerable population. There are other areas where there are benefits from competition and also benefits from cooperation.

Jami-Lee Ross: What results has he seen from investment in Better Public Services?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the first results we are seeing from taking an investment approach to public services is a much better understanding of our customers. The reports, now published 6-monthly, into the welfare liability have lifted the lid on a very complex ecosystem of dependency. Now we are starting to take initiatives in order to change the way that system works. For instance, around 70 percent of the people who sign up for a benefit in any given month have been on a benefit before. They are long-term regular and returning customers. In the past we have thought that because we found them a job once, that was the end of it. In fact, they need sustained support and employment, and we expect to be taking more measures in order to back up that initiative. But there will be hundreds of others that will involve contracting out, will involve competition, will involve the private sector, and will involve better results. . .

Carmel Sepuloni: Does he agree with the finding of the report, which he commissioned, that “Problems with contracting out are often symptoms of deeper causes such as the desire to exert top-down control to limit political risk.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes.

Carmel Sepuloni: Does he agree that the Government needs to take responsibility for system stewardship and for making considered decisions that shape the system, including taking the overarching responsibility for monitoring, planning, and managing resources in such a way as to maintain and improve system performance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Government can do a better job of what the Government does. We are still unravelling the damage done by the previous Labour Government to our social services delivery, where that Government turned it into what I would call a dumb funding system. Communities and families have an important role as well as Governments—in fact, a more important role. In fact, one of the programmes that the commission refers to is Whānau Ora, which is designed around the radical proposition that a lot of our most dysfunctional families can actually heal some of their own problems and improve some of their own aspirations. . .

This exchange shows a stark difference between National and Labour.

National is determined to improve the delivery of social services, give people with disabilities more choices and reduce dependence.

Labour which is still ideologically opposed to private provision of services even if that gives better results.

And it’s not just Labour which has the wrong idea of welfare and the government’s role in services.

Lindsay Mitchell writes on Green MP Jan Logie’s contention that social problems aren’t solved one individual at a time:

If problems aren’t solved “one individual at a time”, when it is individuals who abuse or neglect each other, when it is individuals who successfully resolve to change their behaviour, what hope? And why have role models eg Norm Hewitt to show what individuals can achieve? Why have organisations like AA who focus on each individual owning and addressing their problem; in living one day at a time to break their addiction?

Logie believes in deterministic explanations for human behaviour. Causes are outside of the control of the individual. For instance, colonisation and capitalism cause social chaos to entire groups. Therefore the largest representative collective – government – must play the major remedial role.

And she has the gall to talk about private service providers securing an “ongoing need for [their] services”.

When for the past forty odd years  government policy has been creating and increasing social problems through the welfare state.

This reinforces this morning’s quote from Thomas Sowell: Although the big word on the left is ‘compassion,’ the big agenda on the left is dependency.


Lowering the tone

May 23, 2014

Debate in parliament can be robust, it can also be personal and in the past week there’s been a lowering of the tone with a descent into nastiness:

NZ First leader Winston Peters is known for his expensive suits but he triggered a Savile row of a different nature when he turned on ex-NZ First MP Brendan Horan this week. To say there is bad blood between the two is an insult to leukemia. The loathing runs deeper than the Marianas Trench, as wide as the mouth of the Amazon.

But to do as Peters did, and to describe Horan as “the Jimmy Savile of NZ politics”  – and to do so not once but twice in what was clearly a calculated insult – takes it to a whole new level. Savile, the deceased British “celebrity” who sexually preyed on young, often handicapped, girls, is the nuclear option of insults. It all looked a bit desperate. You cannot make such a comment without backing it up with some evidence.

Yet Peters not only failed to do so, but failed to front in Parliament the following day, when Horan had signalled he would reveal his own deep scandal about NZ First.

It left the rest of the NZ First MPs – who tend to resemble a bunch of ageing Social Creditors with anger management issues at the best of times – making a shambles of trying to use Parliament’s standing orders to block their former colleague.

In the end, Horan’s revelations Peters was using the leader’s budget for electioneering and campaigning expenses, namely software and staff, proved something of a damp squib. It is still far from clear NZ First is doing anything wrong with its Parliamentary funding, although no doubt the party does – like all the others – push it right up to the edge of the rules. . .

New Zealand wasn’t the only party guilty of lowering the tone:

Back in February, Trans-Tasman (14/1933) called attention to what it saw as a “crusty, even nasty, undertone” in political debate. This week the tone was definitely nasty, and it wasn’t an undertone. Winston Peters was slugging it out with his onetime colleague, now independent MP, Brendan Horan labelling him the “Jimmy Savile of NZ politics.” Judging by the sycophantic responses from other NZ First MPs, it was a rehearsed line to put down Horan, who had been trying to table NZ First board meeting minutes, telling Parliament they “point to improper use of taxpayer money.” Just as unpleasant was the tweet from Green MP Jan Logie – “John Key says Bill English has produced as many Budgets as children. Begs the question who he has f&%d to produce it.” Logie subsequently apologised for the comment, but it showed how far current Green MPs have moved from the high standards of former leaders the late Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons. . .

It’s not only far from the standards of the past, it’s a long way from the current code of conduct for Green MPs and the lowering of tone has resulted in a call for MPs to mind their manners:

Prime Minister John Key is warning MPs to behave following what he describes as “a nasty streak” running through Parliament. . . 

Mr Key said on Thursday that politicians risk offending the public with nasty behaviour or mindless tweets.

“Political parties actually need to think about that a little bit. We’re seeing tweets that I think have been wholly inappropriate, we’ve seen all sorts of allegations been made that are unfounded.

“It’s one thing to have parliamentary privilege – it’s quite another thing to actually say those things, because actually they do have repercussions, they do send ripples through the community.”

Mr Key said a tweet is no different from a media statement.

The sort of nastiness that’s been exhibited in the past week is what puts a lot of people off politics.

It adds to the negative view many have of politicians.

And it puts the focus on the petty and personal instead of the principles and policies which really matter.


Dirty SMOG

May 15, 2014

Labour has earned itself the description of the nasty party through the predilection of some of its MPs to resort to personal abuse.

Unfortunately at least one member of its would-be coalition partner, the Green Party,  is learning from that bad example:

That’s a SMOG – social media own goal – and like the other form of smog it’s dirty.

 


Making a fuss or making a difference

November 11, 2013

Making a fuss gets headlines and that’s what Green MP Jan Logie and Australian senator Lee Rhiannon have done in Sri Lanka.

. . . Ms Logie and Australian Green Party Senator Lee Rhiannon had their passports confiscated by immigration officials before a planned press conference this afternoon.

The pair were on a fact-finding trip ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit this week.

Ms Logie and Ms Rhiannon were being held in a hotel room, but are now on their way to the airport to fly out of the country. . .

But have they made a difference?

Of course not.

The Green Party is now pressuring Prime Minister John Key not to go there for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

But he will be accompanied by media who will have opportunities to highlight issues.

He’ll also have an opportunity to speak to leaders face to face. Sir Don Mckinnon explains:

Sir Donald McKinnon says it is difficult for the Commonwealth to be tougher on Sri Lanka because it is difficult to get full agreement on how to address the issues.
 
“There are those who will say, ‘You’ve got to hit them harder,’ those who will say, ‘You’ve got to help them out of this hole they’ve dug for themselves.’
 
He says Prime Minister John Key is most likely to raise concerns about how the country is progressing on human rights at the leader’s retreat.
 
“And, you know, as one who sat through many of those where you just have the leaders on their own, plus the Secretary-General, they are extraordinarily candid with each other because they all believe that one can pull down the others.”
 
When asked what New Zealand could hope to gain from this meeting, Sir Donald McKinnon said New Zealand would want to see progress occurring in Fiji “which I think probably will occur”.
 
“This is the chance for any one leader, John Key included, to sometimes resolve issues that become irresolvable.  If the officials and the foreign minister, the diplomats can’t, sometimes a face to face with a leader can resolve it. . .

Not going would make a fuss, going could make a difference.

It won’t be a big one, but any progress will be better than none.

#gigatownoamaru is working to make a positive difference as the southern hemisphere’s first gigatown.


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