Domestic violence is a work issue

We can now put a dollar figure – a conservative, probably-underestimated figure – on the cost of domestic violence to New Zealand business.

That’s due to a report commissed by the Public Service Association, released yesterday in conjunction with a Member’s Bill from Green MP Jan Logie which will change our law to protect victims of domestic violence at work, and support their employers to help them out.

And incidentally, it could save businesses $368 million per year.

It’s often hard to explain to people why they should care about ‘other people’s problems’. Even on the left, issues like domestic violence or marriage equality can get filed away under ‘women’s issues’ or ‘gay issues’. In a political discussion dominated by right-wing ideas about individuals and ‘bad choices’, it’s even easier for horrific issues like domestic violence to get swept aside.

Even though one in three women will experience domestic violence, we treat it as a private personal issue. It’s about the woman – or man – who’s being victimized. Their circumstances, their ‘choices’, their individual struggle to get out of a terrible situation.

So as clinical as it may seem, it’s important to have this kind of hard evidence to show people. If for no other reason, you should care about addressing intimate partner violence because it does affect you. It affects our communities and our workplaces. It has a provable, financial cost to business – and at the same time, the workplace can be one of the best supports a person has to get out of an abusive situation.

We know this kind of intervention and support works. We can see it working in Australia, where although they don’t have legislation, the union movement have fought hard to get domestic violence clauses into collective agreements covering over 700,000 workers.

The great thing is that Jan Logie’s bill is a win for everyone. It’s a win for victims of domestic violence who get support and security in a tough time. It’s a win for businesses who get healthier, happier, more productive workers (and the warm fuzzy feelings of having done something good and noble in the world). And it’s a win for all of us. Because we get to say we live in a country which does the right thing for people in awful situations. And we get to remember that no person is an island. We all stand together, and we’re so much better for it than if we stand apart.

Who is the Internet Party’s secret MP?

Maybe this is one of those open political secrets – if you’re in the know, you already know, and it seems obvious. If you’re not, it’s a total mystery.

Just who is the MP Kim Dotcom has ready and waiting to jump waka in 2014?

I’ve got no idea, but I approach these things like logic puzzles. Surely there are some basic assumptions which can narrow down the likely options.

First, the MP should be a current electorate MP. It’s only sensible. They’ve already got profile and support. Interestingly, this instantly rules out all of the Greens or NZ First, who (respectively) have the tech savvy and wilful randomness to be plausible options.

Further, we know (at least) 13 electorate MPs aren’t running in 2014: Auchinvole, Banks, Hayes, Heatley, Hutchison, C King, R Robertson, Roy, Ryall, Sharples, Tremain, Turia, Wilkinson. And Bill English is only running on the list.

Maurice Williamson and Clare Curran have both ruled out being the one.

So that’s 54 left. I rule out Hone Harawira, because it would be silly to be talking about some kind of alliance with the IP if there were also a secret plan to switch parties in the works. I can’t see Flavell or Dunne doing it either.

So we’re down to 51, all from Labour or National. Do we rule out all Cabinet Ministers, or people high on the Labour list? Party leaders and deputies, certainly. Then I think we have to get down to basics: who has sufficient personal cred to make it on their own.

So take out anyone whose electorate party vote was higher than or within 10% of their personal vote. We can see where their voters’ loyalties lie.

That eliminates everyone from National except for Nick Smith (the party vote in Nelson is 87% of his personal vote, so … close enough, really) and Paula Bennett, who barely scraped past Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni and is expected to contest the new Upper Harbour seat – unless the polls get so bad National have no other choice than to offer it to Colin Craig.

So that leaves us with Labour MPs. Specifically:

Nanaia Mahuta (party vote 84% of personal vote); Phil Twyford (party vote 75%); Trevor Mallard (party vote 74%); Chris Hipkins (party vote 66%); Phil Goff (party vote 78%); Annette King (party vote 69%); Damien O’Connor (party vote 58%); David Clark (party vote 78%); Ruth Dyson (party vote 58%); Kris Faafoi (party vote 79%); Iain Lees-Galloway (party vote 68%); Megan Woods (party vote 70%).

That does tell a story. But it’s not a story about Kim Dotcom, or even any of those MPs specifically: it’s a story about the 2011 election, which was abysmal for the Labour Party. Eight of those electorates went to National in the party vote.

I can’t see National-leaning voters going to the Internet Party in huge numbers (more than I think others expect, but not that much.) So we’re down to:

  • Nanaia Mahuta
  • Phil Goff
  • Annette King
  • David Clark

Nanaia, Phil and Annette all have stonkingly big majorities and a huge amount of personal mana, it’s true. But do we see the Internet Party going into Parliament through a Māori seat? Do we see either of the most senior, longest-serving Labour veterans making such a radical move?

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The idea of Paula Bennett defecting to the Internet Party sounds positively credible in comparison. At least she could use the Coatesville mansion as a campaign base.

The disappointing conclusion to this thought experiment is that if Kim Dotcom does have a current MP lined up to front his campaign, it’s someone with a vastly inflated sense of their own political popularity or the wisdom of such a move.

It’s fitting, but it just reinforces the idea that the Internet Party is a sideshow. And after six years of National shredding our country to bits, we deserve a better election year debate than that.

30th anniversary of the Trades Hall bombing

ernie abbottOn this day in 1984 a suitcase bomb was left in the Wellington Trades Hall. At 5:19 it detonated, killing Ernie Abbott, the caretaker.

The bomber has never been caught, despite a massive police investigation and a reward of $50,000 offered for information. We don’t even really know why the Trades Hall was targeted – though anti-union extremism seems an obvious motive.

Thirty years on, it’s likely the bomber has taken his identity to the grave.

At 5:19 pm, let’s take a minute’s silence in memory of Ernie.

Assuming justice and creating justice

I’ve been thinking about politics, assumptions, and justice.

I sat in on a recording of The Egonomist on Friday – thanks for having me there, guys! – and we discussed some of the issues and reactions to Sarah Wilson‘s articles on WINZ, specifically the backlash from people who insist that Sarah must be a liar, a bludger, or a lying bludger, because if you can blog, or go out with friends, you must be able to work.

Then I read this post by Chris Miller on the assumptions we tend to make about businessmen being good political leaders. Chris makes excellent points about why that’s clearly a silly assumption, but the post also brought together a lot of scattered thoughts I was having about our political narratives.

The technical term for it is a “just-world hypothesis“. It’s the idea that our universe is basically just. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. If good things have happened to you, it must be because you’re a good person, and so on and so forth.

You can probably connect the dots yourself. People have attacked Sarah because the idea that she’s a good, hardworking person who’s been randomly struck by illness and then wilfully mistreated by our welfare system contradicts their assumption that the universe is just. And wealthy businesspeople must be good leaders, because they’ve managed to accrue a lot of material goods and influence, and that wouldn’t happen if they didn’t deserve it.

The idea extends to many area of our lives – the myth that ‘nice girls’ don’t get assaulted, or innocent people never get wrongfully executed – and every time, the just-world fallacy supports the status quo. It supports the mistreatment of beneficiaries, the influence of the wealthy, the patriarchy, and institutional racism. It supports the worldview of the right-wing and socially conservative.

We on the left know the world isn’t a just place. The people on the bottom aren’t worthless, and the people at the top aren’t inherently admirable. We don’t assume there’s justice: we want to create justice.

So let’s challenge this kind of thinking. Let’s say that workers deserve a living wage, and beneficiaries deserve to be treated with dignity, and kids who don’t do well at school deserve support, and families deserve a fair go to buy a home, or rent one that’s actually habitable.

These assumptions only survive because they’re repeated by our political leaders, in our media, at the pub, across the family dinner table. They’re accepted as common sense. But if we all stand up and say ‘no, that’s not right’ then slowly but surely we can turn that thinking around.

There’s definitely more practical things we need to do as well! But to create a lasting change in New Zealand society, we need to overturn the assumptions that support the status quo too.

No excuse for WINZ’s mistreatment of people in need

Yesterday one woman’s story blew the lid on our government’s treatment of beneficiaries. Sarah Wilson’s post on her ongoing struggles just to get Work and Income to do their job properly and give her the support she needs went viral, and as the comments flooded in, more stories emerged.

Stories about how humiliating it is to be sitting in a WINZ office when they ring the bell and applaud people who find jobs – even if they’re in a meeting with you at the time, and you’re in tears. Stories about literally having to record yourself delivering paperwork to prove you got it in on time, because it’s been lost, again, and your support has been stopped. Stories about puking on the floor because the next available home visit was four weeks away – so it was drag yourself in to the office, or starve.

It’s shocking, and yet unsurprising. We all know the stories of WINZ stuff-ups, the labyrinthine bureaucracy beneficiaries have to navigate to prove they’re worthy. But when the stories achieve a critical mass like this, it tells us unequivocally that there’s a bigger issue.

The best-case scenario is that Work and Income is staffed by people who are trying their darnedest to help but just have a massive blind spot when it comes to the realities of life for their ‘clients’ (and are really, really absent-minded with paperwork). The worst-case scenario is that every single one of them is on a satanic mission to make life hell for people like Sarah.

Obviously, the reality’s going to be somewhere in the middle. Some individuals are doing their best to help. Some individuals are doing their darnedest to get people off benefits, any way they can, because the numbers are how this government ‘proves’ that its reforms are ‘working’.

The big lesson to take away from this, though, is that stories like Sarah’s aren’t accidental.

There doesn’t have to be a big scary anti-beneficiary conspiracy to explain the mistreatment doled out to vulnerable people. There just has to be an attitude of ‘beneficiaries aren’t worth helping’. From that comes everything: a lack of basic processes (people have to record themselves handing over their paperwork!) a lack of basic empathy (ringing bells!) a lack of doing serious, constructive things which would actually help people like Sarah get back into work.

But if you want a conspiracy, think about this: one of the first changes this government made to social welfare in 2009 was to cut the Training Incentive Allowance. It made so little sense: why remove a benefit which helps parents upskill themselves to find better jobs to support their families?

Could it be the numbers? Could it be that when you help a solo mum through a nursing degree, you’re ‘letting’ her stay on a benefit for three more years – but if you make her life unbearable, until even an insecure, no-benefits job in a café, juggling childcare and hoping the power company’s kind, seems like a better alternative, you can get her off the benefit now?

In her post, Sarah says

I’m so tired of this. I almost want to force myself to go back to work because trying to stay on a benefit is more stressful than working fulltime with a debilitating chronic illness.

I have to ask: is that their point?

Sarah has now written a follow-up post.

Related reading: Frank Mcskasy has previously covered the epic piles of paperwork WINZ requires ‘jobseekers’ to fill out.