The government’s housing message dilemma

John Key was across the media yesterday, trying to tamp down suggestions the Budget would do anything at all to address the housing “issue” which everyone else in New Zealand has accepted is a crisis. The lines are familiar: there’s no quick fix (so no point doing anything at all), Kiwis are more interested in other things (… which my government has also failed to do anything about.)

Unfortunately, 76% of people and even 61% of National voters don’t think enough is being done to address the fact there are families with newborn children living in cars in Godzone. And the usual lines are ringing more and more hollow.

Watching Key on Breakfast yesterday, it felt like he was honestly surprised at the backlash on housing. At the way his brush-offs and shrugs weren’t met with a jolly laugh and a diversion into What Max Has Been Up To With That New Hair.

But that’s fair enough. Looking at the polls and broad media narrative for the past eight years, we – the embodied Common Sense of Middle New Zealand – have accepted an awful lot of stuff from this government.

We accepted that beneficiaries should be drug tested, and forced into work before their babies are even school aged. We accepted that social housing could be better run by the private sector, and that imposing basic standards on private rentals would hurt landlords too much.

We accepted that it was too difficult to get rid of zero hour contracts – until it wasn’t – and that health and safety shouldn’t apply to “low risk” endeavours like farming – unless worms were involved – and that giving new parents a full 26 weeks paid time with their babies was way too expensive.

We accepted that a surplus was the most important thing a government could deliver, and that there was nothing wrong with the price of housing, especially in Auckland.

For eight (long) years there’s been little mainstream pushback against the ideas that ordinary people deserve near-zero support from their community, and the market must not be meddled with.

But this week John Key has looked up and everyone’s staring at him saying “WTF, mate? People are living in cars? We’re putting them up in motels so their kids can sleep in a bed for once and we’re charging them for the privilege? What the hell is going on and why aren’t you doing anything about it?”

And I don’t think he really knows what to do.

I’m not going over the top to declare The Honeymoon Is Over or try to sell a 1.6% drop in Key’s preferred-PM rating as A Catastrophic Landslide Of Support. I’m definitely biased, and seriously frustrated after eight years of a government which oscillates between do-nothing when people are struggling to feed their families and men-of-action when Saudi billionaires throw temper tantrums.

But the same old lines aren’t working. The discontent is getting mainstream. And John Key may no longer have all the answers.

When survivors speak out

Content note: discussion of sexual violence and the experience of survivors.

Yesterday I did a round-up of the women’s voices on Twitter talking about recent events in Parliament, where women MPs from the Opposition, many of them survivors of sexual violence, were thrown out of the House for taking exception to John Key saying they supported rapists.

There have been other great posts in the last day or so expanding on what this means.

Claudia has written at Public Address about her own experience.

I want to believe in trigger warnings, because I want to believe there’s something people can do to make me feel safer in a world that has proven, twice, that I am not safe.

This week, the highest body in New Zealand has proven to me that that wish is pointless. That I can’t be safe. Because the people who are meant to protect me care more about scoring political points than they do about the people who need them.

Hadassah Grace has put together a brief history of John Key and his Government’s record on sexual violence. She has a tremendous list of sources at the end.

The National budget includes an increase in funding to sexual violence services of $10.4 million over the next two years. Although this is much needed, it comes five years after the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence first recommended a funding increase. Five years of drastic funding cuts in which many providers were forced to lay off staff, reduce services or close down altogether.

This $10.4 million is less than the yearly budget for ministerial travel.

This was written last year on the Wellington Rape Crisis blog, but it’s just as relevant today:

With media and hearings coming up, something we are often asked is do we have someone who is prepared to speak to a camera about their abuse. This has led us to consider again how do we include the voices of survivors when most wish to remain anonymous? Something that both the sexual and domestic violence sector finds is that when survivors have done some of their healing they want to contribute to public knowledge about this issue. However, our ‘human interest’ angle in the media requires names and photos. How do we hold the tension of public wanting faces to go with stories, and a survivor’s right and need to have control over information people have about them?

Deborah Russell calls it an object lesson in silencing women.

Accusing the Labour Party of backing rapists is the latest tactic that the Speaker of the House is using to protect a Prime Minister who simply won’t fight for New Zealanders, who wants to pick and choose who he will act for as New Zealanders, and who is determined to make sure that the only New Zealanders he will look out for are the people who are convenient for him.

There’s also excellent video from Story of the women MPs who walked out yesterday talking about their experiences. Trigger warnings apply. Other good coverage came from The Guardian.

Please go read these posts in full. I know there’s a concern about “buying” Key’s line – about getting distracted by are-they-rapists-or-not or are-we-defending-rapists-or-not – but I reject it. I said on Twitter last night:

We can do more than one thing at a time (if you watch the article on Story, you’ll see they do!). And if we can improve the situation for Kiwis in Australian detention centres and demand a better national conversation about sexual violence, we’ll have done some real good in the world.

Women of #nzpol Twitter: on John Key, David Carter and using rape for political gain

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

misandry coffee

If you’re even peripherally aware of what goes on in NZ politics you will have heard about what went down in Question Time yesterday. Harried and useless on the issue of New Zealanders being detained on Christmas Island by the Australian government, our honourable Prime Minister decided to scream across the House that Labour was “supporting rapists”.

And then David Carter cemented his position as Literally The Worst Speaker Of The House Ever, Possibly In Any Country In History by neither finding this comment unparliamentary, nor facing the music of a no-confidence vote.

Many props to the Opposition MPs who walked out on that charade. Here’s what the women of #nzpol Twitter had to say.

https://twitter.com/DeniseRocheMP/status/663889031239852032

https://twitter.com/Dovil/status/663889891860721664

They did.

Then they came back to hold David Carter to account.

The reaction was not good.

https://twitter.com/DearMama_/status/663960693637386240

Metiria Turei asked if John Key is losing it.

And there are a lot of issues to think about.

Deborah Russell has a great post up about the situation of the people in the detention centre.

Commenter weka at The Standard provides an interesting list of the government’s record on sexual harassment and assault.

Ultimately, I’m glad some people took a clear stand against the many levels of bullshit going on in this story.

Kelvin Davis spoke passionately about the situation on Christmas Island – which he’s seen first hand – at the Labour Party conference. We have to be clear: these are people who have already served their time for the crimes they’ve committed. Many of them have no family or community ties in New Zealand, having left when they were kids. They’re being subjected to utterly inhumane treatment on a rock in the middle of the ocean under a law designed for getting rid of terrorists.

But instead of doing something decisive about the problem, John Key has settled for slinging shit at the Opposition who are literally doing their jobs by holding him to account. And David Carter is letting him use the highest body in our democracy to do it.

It’s all about the game

For weeks the flag referendum has been a debacle. Nobody understands why we’re not having a simple “do you want to change the flag” vote first, nobody understands how the hell two identical corporate logos got into the final four, nobody has a good explanation for why the government which re-introduced knighthoods suddenly got all aflutter about asserting our independence as a nation by scrapping the Union Jack.

Until Monday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, where John Key, half-Prime Minister half-circus contortionist, went from “Stop trying to make Red Peak happen, it’s not going to happen!”

“I love your enthusiasm, folks, but I’m SUPER SERIOUS about this! … Well, okay, technically we could.”

“In fact, we totally would, but they’re not playing ball.”

And in a moment in which apparently none of the Press Gallery’s heads exploded (they’ve clearly all maxed their Fortitude):

So in less than half an hour, as I sat checking Twitter on an early bus home, the flag story turned. From a $26 million ego trip, with Julie Christie, the woman who didn’t see value in having John Campbell on the telly, entrusted with the identity and ~brand~ of the nation, a PM who used every weasel word in the book to avoid spelling out that yes, he wants a fern on the flag, “public meetings” with an absolutely dismal turnout and a popular, grassroots campaign for a better option …

Suddenly, this is a problem of Labour’s doing.

It’s nonsensical. Wasn’t it just a week ago that John Key was dismissing the idea of changing the shortlist, because he’d have to change the law, which is obviously impossible for a government to do?

Brook Sabin found his own explanation:

Now, if you’re on the left, you just don’t believe that. Labour could have immediately said “hell yes, let’s do this thing!” and we just know, deep in our guts, where we’re still bitter about frankly made-up stories about Donghua Liu paying $100,000 for a bottle of wine, the line would be “Key, the great gameplayer, has masterfully turned the Opposition’s own arguments against them and come to a compromise which all New Zealanders will agree is decent and common-sense.”

The house always wins. John Key wins. Because we’ve come to accept that politics is a game, and political commentary is like sports commentary: more about how things occurred and whether the players are competent than what actually happened.

So we don’t get a lot of people with mainstream platforms pointing out that the need for a law change is a red herring, the waste of parliamentary time is a red herring, the demand for cross-party support in a red herring.

clue communism red herring

What gets reported is that Key played it really, really well.

And we’re all part of it. I’ve seen more lefties than journos saying “wow, that was masterful”, “dammit Labour, play the game better.” This entire post is about the political meta, not the facts!

This all leads people to say that John Key has magical political powers. And if you look at the results he gets, at the speed with which he turned a weeks-long tale of his own political machinations and frivolous spending of public money on a vanity project into a nationwide debate about whether or not it’s playing politics to point out he’s playing politics … it seems pretty magical.

But it makes me sad. Politics should be more than a game, and we should judge our leaders on what they achieve, not how brilliantly they cover up the fact they’re achieving nothing at all.

Makes for a catchy song though.

The “No” Prime Minister

A favourite meme of disingenuous rightwinger commenters is that no one likes the Left/the Opposition because we’re so negative. “You just say ‘no’ all the time, why not stand for something positive?” they say, being very concerned about our political fortunes.

Yet less than a year into his third term as PM, it’s John Key who seems to be saying “no” a lot.

No, you can’t have 26 weeks paid parental leave – it’ll cost too much, and no, we don’t want to look at your costings.

No, you can’t give all workers the right to elect health and safety representatives.

No, you can’t have the flag you want, you have to have the flag I want.

No, we can’t take more refugees, the system is too stretched already – and no, we can’t increase funding for that system either.

amy winehouse no no no

Time and again the government will make the bare minimum gesture possible. 18 weeks’ paid parental leave – all we can afford, really. All workers in large workplaces or small workplaces in “high risk industries” will get H&S reps – just don’t expect him to have a coherent idea of what those industries are. On the flag, we’re meant to accept that Key’s hands are tied, because they’d have to change the law to introduce a new option – except that’s not true, and anyway, isn’t changing the law kind of his job?

And on refugees, it’s not even a thousand. It’s 150 from our current quota, plus 100 this year, and maybe 500 jars of jam tomorrow over the next two financial years.

John Key couldn’t even bring himself to a one-off doubling of our quota, because God forbid it look like he’s listening to a suggestion made by the Opposition.

When our Prime Minister was thunderously declaring that the Opposition needed to “get some guts” and support a military deployment to Iraq, he nicked a line from his 2011 campaign song – “it’s time to stand up and be counted.” His charade of a consultation process for selecting a new flag kept asking New Zealanders what we “stand for”.

Right now, it doesn’t feel like John Key stands for anything – except saying “no”.