It takes a child to raise a country – so Tick for Kids

Overshadowed by the  political smears that have dominated the past few days, the Tick for Kids campaign was launched (video) to put our children at the centre of the election campaign.

In their media release supporting the campaign, the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services nailed the inequality issue:

NZCCSS is calling for government policies that lift the household income of vulnerable families so they can provide a healthy standard of living for their children. Policies such as paying a universal child benefit (e.g. by extending the In-Work Tax Credit to parents who are not in work) will help reduce child poverty. Policies like these make a contribution to reducing inequality and consequently lifting children out of poverty.

Other issues in the campaign are health, education, disability, housing and refugee and migrant children.

We know that the right can’t tackle these issues seriously. We’ve seen the situation for Kiwi children only get worse over the past five years.  Punitive crackdowns on beneficiary families, school closures, eroding incomes, refusing to expand the Food in Schools programme to all schools, running down early childhood education: the National-ACT-United Future-Maori coalition has been bad for kids.

Meanwhile, Labour has the BestStart policy to ensure all families with newborns get a basic level of support, restore funding to ECE and provide free antenatal classes. The Greens have a package of policies including after-school care and free GP visits for all under-18s. Mana believes feeding the kids should be our first priority as a nation.

And a leftwing coalition which reduces inequality, raises wages, rebuilds our social safety net and creates meaningful economic growth benefits all Kiwis and their families.

What do you reckon?

The dirtiest election campaign backfires

Yesterday looked like it was going to be a pretty bad day. There were scandalous revelations, blatant lies, unrestrained corruption gnawing at the very heart of the left. At least, that’s what we were promised.

But in the end what we got was a pretty standard, decade-old MP’s letter to Immigration asking about timeframes for a constituent(1) and a chorus cry from people who were never going to support anything Labour did anyway for Cunliffe to resign.

What happened next was interesting.

As the story developed – or rather, undeveloped, because a few pictures of someone’s wife standing next to Rick Barker is not the Zimmerman Telegram – I saw a lot of people on my (admittedly leftwing, Wellington-focused) Twitter feed coming together to call bullshit on the whole thing.

https://twitter.com/nintendoug/status/479142090039754752

https://twitter.com/blackdoris23/status/479099360169304064

My personal favourite:

Even the satire accounts got into it:

And of course, there were posts at The Standard along the same lines: (2)

This isn’t a redemption story by any means. It’s not smart to issue categorical denials of something when you’ve been in politics for 15 years – but of course it’s also not smart to prevaricate and say you’ll check, because then Paddy Gower follows you around with a microphone all day demanding a yes/no answer (and check out the audio of Cunliffe’s stand-up yesterday for some fantastic examples of journos demanding an answer which will give them a good headline.)

But it is, really, a story of hope. Because you have to ask yourself just how desperate the Nats have to be if their first kinghit on Cunliffe is an 11-year-old pro-forma MP’s letter which says nothing more than “how long is this going to take, yo.”

I expect there’ll be more – I figured this election year was going to be nasty – but we know their game and we are refusing to play it.

(1) This is where Matthew Hooton demands Donghua Liu’s 2003 street address because what if David Cunliffe’s office drafted a letter about someone not from his actual electorate, huh? HUH? CORRUPTION!

(2) This is where the right accuses us of acting on orders from the Party. Nope, just a simple case of great minds thinking alike!

ETA: no, this morning’s poll isn’t great, but I defer to Dimpost’s analysis on that one.

The right to choose – early and safely

Abortion isn’t a topic which gets a lot of talk-space in New Zealand politics, but that may change this year with the Green Party unveiling a staunchly pro-choice Women’s Policy which includes decriminalisation, guaranteed access, and support for pregnant people no matter what they choose to do.

(I say “may” change because the political conversation is already plenty crowded, what with Banks, Internet Mana, Oravida, the TPPA, the GCSB, etc.)

In any case, it’s created a lot of discussion, especially over at The Standard. I’ve made a few rather long comments there, and have collected some key points here for future reference. It might be a little incoherent, so apologies in advance.

Is there support for abortion law reform?

Yes, if you just walk up to people out of the blue and say “Let’s kill babies in the womb, good times!!!” you’re probably going to get a negative reaction.

But, shockingly, that’s not how the discussion goes. Alison McCulloch did a road trip through NZ to promote her book and talk to people about abortion, and she said that many people were quite happy to discuss the issues, and very interested to learn that abortion is still a crime in NZ.

Every time I’ve seen decriminalisation raised in a political context (i.e. by the Greens this week and at Labour Party conferences) there’s always a few people who don’t realise it’s still a crime. Once we get that message more widespread, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of will to change.

Access in New Zealand

A lot of people use statistics about how many abortions are performed in NZ – about 15,000 per year – but it’s a really insincere argument. A number is a number. You can’t make any assumptions about whether that’s too many, not enough or just right until you look at the circumstances of people getting, or not getting, abortions.

Until Southern DHB began offering abortion services at Southland Hospital last year, anyone in Invercargill or Gore who wanted to get an abortion would have needed to travel to Christchurch and put aside 5-6 hours to be at the Lyndhurst clinic. Do you really think every unwilling pregnant person in Southland would have had the resources or ability to do that?

There are still no certifying consultants or abortion providers on the West Coast. Do you think it’s easy for a woman – who probably already has children, or work, or can’t tell other people her plans – to get over the Southern Alps for at least two certifying appointments and a procedure?

If you argue for the status quo to continue (or, like Judith Collins, that the status quo is “working”), you are arguing against pregnant people having a legal right to end their pregnancies, or the access to do so.

The 20-week limit

The number of abortions done at anywhere near 20 weeks are vanishingly small, and usually performed for serious medical reasons or because the pregnant person has been prevented from getting a termination sooner. This story from The Wireless is a good example of why that can happen. (The Wireless did a great series of articles on abortion in NZ for their “Free” theme.)

The meme that women are just lounging around the house pregnant and then go “Oh, whoops, I don’t want a baby after all” halfway through is an anti-abortion myth. Unfortunately, things go wrong in pregnancy and late-term abortions are sometimes required to save lives (yes, I know, how ironic 🙄 ) And sometimes – because of archaic, condescending processes like we currently have in NZ – people don’t have access to abortion services earlier.

The irony is that policies like the Greens’ will make it easier for people to get early medication abortions, long before there’s any argument to be made about whether or not “it’s a baby”. So if you really oppose “unnecessary” 20-week abortions, you should support this policy.

Supporting the Greens

To be a little harsh – if you were a Greens supporter already and this policy has changed your mind, I venture to suggest you hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to Green Party policy. They’ve had liberalising our abortion laws on the books for years.

The coat-tail rule and democracy

Allow me to fly in the face of an accepted truth in NZ politics by saying this: there is absolutely nothing undemocratic about the MMP “coat-tail” rules.

This has quickly become the meme du jour around the Internet/Mana alliance (and I keep using the A-word very deliberately, because there’s an important precedent which people keep ignoring!) as propounded by Patrick Gower:

… Laila Harré is wrecking MMP.

Hone Harawira is wrecking MMP.

And Kim Dotcom is wrecking MMP.

They are using Harawira’s seat and MMP’s “coat-tail” rule to get a back-door entry into Parliament.

It is a rort.

It is a grubby deal, made all the worse by the fact Harawira holds the Te Tai Tokerau seat – a Maori seat.

As both mickysavage at The Standard and Danyl at Dim-Post have noted, there’s a funny little irony here: National had the opportunity to reform MMP, but they didn’t – because, we can probably assume, they thought they’d be hurting their own chances by doing so. (And they thought ACT would be able to lift its polling numbers.) Now, their failure to act is biting them on the arse.

But there’s another point – a point I can make by strategically editing an anonymous Stuff editorialist writing on the coat-tail rule:

A weakness of the mixed-member proportional system [is that it] … allows a party … to gain seats according to the proportion of the party vote.

Hang on a tick. It’s a weakness of MMP that parties gain seats proportional to their share of the party vote? Isn’t that how MMP is meant to work?

I agree, there is unfairness in MMP, but it’s not the “coat-tailing” – it’s the plight of parties which don’t win electorate seats.

Take New Zealand First. In 1999, they received 4.26% of the vote – not enough to cross the threshold, but because Winston held Tauranga, they gained 5 seats. But in 2008, they received 4.07% of the vote and didn’t hold Tauranga – so they were out.

The real irony? Due to the increase in overall voters, New Zealand First actually received nearly 7,500 more votes in 2008 than 1999. Nearly 100,000 Kiwis’ votes were rendered void in 2008, because there was no seat to coat-tail on to.

87,000 votes got you 5 seats in 1999. 95,000 votes got you no seats in 2008. Is that fair?

Say what you like about Winston Peters and New Zealand First – but I think that kind of situation “wrecks MMP” far more than a couple of parties coming to a mutual agreement about working together to ensure their constituents have the best possible chance of being represented – fairly and proportionally – in Parliament.

Internet Mana: the sell-out and the reaction

A common response I saw to the Mana/Internet alliance today was, “Oh great, Mana’s sold out. Mana’s meant to be grassroots! Mana and the Internet Party have nothing in common!”

The thing is, it largely (not entirely) came from people who aren’t Mana members or supporters. It came from Labour supporters.

So my initial reaction was to say “Maybe Labour members shouldn’t crow too loudly about the idea of a party moderating its views in order to get broader mainstream appeal. Maybe, if you really love Mana’s kaupapa/ideology/vision/tactics that much, you should put a ring on it. I mean, join it.”

It wasn’t a particularly nice thought, but I was saved from tweeting it by character limits – probably for the best, because this kind of snark goes over much better in the longform.

The thing is, it does feel like there are some on the left who approved of Mana’s out-there down-and-dirty politics … in a very condescending way. An “isn’t it cute? They organise people living in state houses to go on marches and wave little flags, just like real revolutionaries!” way. An, “of course they’ll never win anything because they’re too scary and loud (and unashamedly brown) but wouldn’t it be great if we could all be ideologically pure like them? Bless” way.

I think Mana is seen by some in Labour as admirably extreme: but oh, they’re just not our kind of political ally. Obviously it would be delightful if they managed to pull 3-4% and bring in some definitely-not-going-into-coalition-with-National MPs, but until then we’d really rather they use the servants’ entrance while we do the grown-up politics thing.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing bad about wanting to work within a larger party like Labour to pull it back to its social justice roots (hi, I’m Stephanie and I’m a Labour Party member) and appreciate having a more radical minor party in the picture to shift the discourse (I refuse to say “Overton Window” because it’s terribly wanky and also the name of a Glenn Beck novel).

But if you are a member of that larger party, you just shouldn’t be too quick to scream “SELLOUT!!!” at the first sign of an unusual, untested, practically unique allegiance of two parties with very distinct, pretty well-defined interests and approaches. (Approaches which I don’t think are mutually exclusive, but that’s a post for another day).

Especially before we even know who the Internet Party leader will be, or what the joint policy platform looks like.

There are many valid criticisms of Kim Dotcom – my most generous assessment is that he’s like any number of self-centered socially-awkward politically-adrift nerds I’ve known, only with a big pile of cash, which doesn’t tend to prompt a lot of self-reflection and moderation. And there is still every chance that this alliance spells the end of Mana as the kind of radical force people both inside and outside wanted or expected it to be.

We’ve already seen resignations from Mana, so clearly some in the party aren’t happy, and that could lead to a loss of members or a Labour-style internal power shift if the process for deciding on the alliance is seen as unfair or undemocratic.

All I’m saying is that it’s probably too early for any outsider to start making grandiose declarations about another party’s kaupapa.