Better to be Hung for a Sheep as a Lamb

In the past week, the options have narrowed for Labour.

The Greens, through motormouth Metiria Turei, have ruled themselves out of the next Government. Labour’s tax proposals, while progressive, are too easily dismissed as complicated and paternalistic. The polls, while probably underestimating the left as usual, give no comfort.

The current Labour leadership are repeating the mistakes of David Cunliffe, who went in to his election with policies that were watered down and downright timid. The irony is that his predecessor, David Shearer, who was derided by many on the left, campaigned on a far more red tinted platform and did better than expected.

So, what should Labour do?

Tinker with tax? Hold their nerve and hope to muddle through? Keep putting out bland, meaningless slogans like “It’s Time for a Fresh Approach”?

Nope.

Labour need to be bold.

Andrew Little should dump the current campaign direction. He should be brave enough to say we’ve been too timid and put up an easily understood message instead.

It’s the UBI.

If Labour go into this campaign saying we’ll gut the benefit system, simplify taxes and give all New Zealanders a weekly minimum income equivalent to the current super payments, we’ll win handsomely.

Not because voters will instantly understand the UBI concept. Not because voters will suddenly unleash their dormant inner revolutionary. Not because it’s financially sensible.

Labour should do it because it plays to prejudices, and to back pockets.

There aren’t many middle class Kiwis who don’t look down on beneficiaries in some way or another. There aren’t many in the middle who wouldn’t fancy $400 a week. There aren’t many who wouldn’t abandon National if Labour gave them a simple reason to switch.

Sure, that message distorts what a UBI is really about, but so what?

It’s bold, it’s revolutionary and it’s better than meekly accepting defeat.

Do it, Andrew.

Win it with UBI.


Leave Paula Bennett Alone!

Like a lot of folk, I’ve had the allegations of youthful criminal behaviour by current Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett pop up in my facebook feed. They’re not entirely new and they do seem to confirm what many feel is her character (or, rather, lack of character).

As we know, Bennett bought property and gained an education as a solo mother. As a minister, she swiftly took away the rights of other beneficiaries to do the same. She is also a proven bully, perfectly willing to use the force of the state to cower the powerless.

In many ways, Paula Bennett is an awful person.

However, I have some sympathy for any beneficiary who broke the law in order to survive. NZ has enjoyed only around a decade where solo parents were shown any dignity or empathy. That period was from 1973, when the Domestic Purposes Benefit was enacted, to the mid-eighties, when the first faux ACT government was elected.

Since then, beneficiaries have again been reduced to social pariahs for whom we are supposed to have nothing but contempt. From mothers to others.

The allegations against Bennett come from someone whose social media output suggests is a confused, angry person with a tendency to right wing paranoia and misanthrope. That doesn’t mean the allegations are false, of course. But it does mean we should tread with caution before believing them.

Just because he believes them and we might want them to be true because it confirms our low opinion of Paula Bennett doesn’t mean they should be aired publicly, let alone be the subject of criminal prosecution.

If Bennett did break the law while struggling to hold her family together, I think that’s entirely forgivable. That she has learned nothing from her experience isn’t.


#CrookedBillary

Frankly, I don’t give a toss about what recreational pursuits Todd Barclay has indulged in over his time as a Parliamentarian. It’s no big deal.

It’s hardly a secret that generations of past MP’s drank themselves legless most sitting days. That was fine back in the day.

Rob Muldoon famously called a snap election while pissed as a parrot. One of his Cabinet Ministers claimed to have been assaulted while walking home from Parliament and the joke at the time was the Police were looking for three men: Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker.

These days, Parliament is a relatively sober workplace. MP’s are just as likely to be found in the gym as they are in Bellamy’s.

The issue is not whether Barclay was putting the high into Otago High Country or rooting like a Ranfurly rabbit.

The question is this: What did Bill English know?

If he knew about the drugs and sex allegations, why did he hide them? Why didn’t he get on the front foot and deal with Barclay as ruthlessly as his predecessor the Smiling Assassin John Key would have done?

Is the truth that rather than deal with an even trickier issue than the illegal tape recording, our PM bottled it and instead chose silence because of the potential damage in election year?

If he knew Barclay was committing crimes, even relatively harmless matters such as using recreational drugs, why did Bill English say nothing?

Could it be that English is not the deathly dull, upright Christian bore we’ve been led to believe?

Is it time for the hashtag #CrookedBillary?


How Odd of Todd, how Ill of Bill

Three quick questions over the Barclay/English affair.

First up; who else knew?

Was the then PM, John Key aware? The money paid to the abused worker came from a budget under his control. In March last year, Key said:

“From time to time, when you get a change of MP, you will get changes to staff, because the style’s a bit different, so I don’t have any other details other than that.”

This statement was made a month after Bill English texted a National Party electorate worker saying he knew Barclay had made the recordings. If Key genuinely did not know the details, why did English hide them from him?

Secondly; what is this crap about Todd Barclay being bound by confidentiality?

The ending of the employment relationship is a matter between an employer and an employee. Barclay is neither. He simply should not have been involved in the resolution of the employment dispute, which ended in a larger than usual payment to the abused worker.

The termination agreement and final settlement, a copy of which is presumably lodged with the Mediation Service, is between Parliamentary Services and their former worker, electorate agent Glenys Dickson. It should not and probably cannot bind a third party, even one directly involved in the dispute.

If he’s not a party to the settlement, and it does contain a confidentiality clause, how does he even know what things he cannot talk about? Who broke confidentiality to tell him?

Frankly, the settlement has nothing to do with Todd Barclay in a legal sense and he is simply hiding from the truth yet again.

But then, this is a man who took money from the tobacco industry. His lack of a moral compass is what made him an ideal candidate to be a National Party MP in the first place.

The real surprise is that Bill English would try and cover up for him. Sure, he watched John Key bullshit for 8 years, but English must have known that he doesn’t have Key’s evasive skills.

The third question is relatively simple; will Bill English lead National into this year’s election or will the prospect of him snatching defeat from the jaws of victory scare his caucus into getting the knives out?

 

 


The Last Days of May

The Last Days of May

 

It’s looking increasingly likely that embattled UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, will have to stand down.

The public, including many Conservative voters, appear disgusted with her decision to do a deal with the Neanderthals of the DUP, whose bigoted, backward looking and regressive nature is legendary. The DUP election manifesto has been wittily described as “basically just the bible, with fortnightly bin collections”.

May looks particularly weak and hypocritical for relying on the DUP because her party and the right wing press have, for months, made hay out of calling Jeremy Corbyn a terrorist enabler. Even the briefest of google searches shows that the DUP are far closer to actual active terrorists than any other political party in the UK. They are a loathsome, reactionary force for repression.

And they are the only thing keeping the Tories in power.

To compound matters, Theresa May has made a complete hash of the response to the tragic Grenfell Towers fire. Instead of going to the site personally, she sent her stunt double, Andrea Leadsom, instead. Predictably, Leadsom, who also sat in for May in the election TV debates, was howled down by survivors and supporters.

May has just finished a trainwreck of an interview on the BBC’s Newsnight. It may be the last straw.

However, the problem remains that the Tory party is paralysed with fear. Dump May and replace her with who? Nobody with any political nous is going to want the job. Boris Johnson will bide his time and take over in the rebuilding phase. He is not going to want to lead them into the next election because it is going to be a thumping of historic proportions.

And meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn continues to lead Britain from the opposition benches.

Labour’s time is coming and the UK will be much the better for the change.

May will go soon, but it’s her party Britain needs to be shot of.


Death of A Deportee

In December 2015, I interviewed a young Aussie who had been deported from his home to New Zealand, the country of his birth. A 501er, as they are known in the Lucky Country.

In the article, I referred to him as Doug for privacy reasons. His real name was Matt and he killed himself last night.

I liked Matt. He was obviously upset and bewildered by his deportation to a country he’d never been to before. He missed his family and he missed his kid. He was naturally guarded about some aspects of his life, but he was open and honest with me about the situation he found himself in.

I know his Kiwi relatives did all they could to help him, but it was never going to be enough. Stuck in a small town, with no honest job prospects, Matt predictably found other ways to make money. A facebook photo a few weeks after he was dumped here in NZ showed him grinning among piles of cash.  I had a feeling then that it wasn’t going to end well for Matt. Jail or worse?

Turned out it was worse. Matt was increasingly depressed about his situation and started to steal from family and friends. He was kicked out of accommodation several times. He found work in Wellington but, as I understand it, that ended with him writing off his employer’s car. He was back to zero, in a city where he knew no one.

Matt was certainly no angel. He was a criminal in Australia and it appears he broke the law to survive here in NZ too. But he didn’t deserve to die alone and miserable. His child doesn’t deserve to grow up without his father.

Matt described Aussie Immigration and Border Control Minister Peter Dutton as evil. I’m reminded of the old saying that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. Opinion might divided on whether John Key was ever a ‘good man’, but he certainly did nothing to help Matt or the dozens of other Aussie criminals dumped here because of an accident of birth.

Shame on Dutton. Shame on Key. Shame on the rest of us for staying silent about the gross unfairness of this situation.

TRP

The original interview is reproduced below:

In a world awash with people transiting from one country to another, it’s rare to meet someone who has moved involuntarily, under the threat of being shipped from his urban incarceration to a far worse prison island thousands of miles away.

We are sadly familiar with news of migrant families who risk everything to get to a better life.

We are less exposed to the reality of people who have no reasonable option but to leave their families behind, to never again see their home, to lose everything they own, and not even get to hug their child one last time.

But that’s the situation faced by of New Zealand’s newest immigrants. I’m not going to identify him. I’ll call him Doug for the purposes of this post. Doug’s home is Australia, but his passport says he’s a Kiwi. He’s been in New Zealand for a few days, his first time back here since his parents took him across the Tasman as a toddler a couple of decades ago.

He left New Zealand in short pants, and returned in handcuffs, with nothing much more than a bag of clothes and his strong Ocker accent. Doug’s a 501er. A deportee.

Does he want to be here?

Does he fuck.

Doug respects his Kiwi heritage, but his life is in Australia. His mum, his siblings, his son. They’re there, he’s here.

And it’s not bloody fair, mate.

I meet Doug at his rellie’s suburban home in a provincial city. He’s bright, clear eyed and thoughtful. He chain smokes rollies throughout the interview. Afterwards, as I leave, I see him in the backyard, sitting in the sun on a wooden stool, smoking yet another ciggie and texting on a budget cellphone. Not texting anyone here in NZ, obviously. All the Kiwis he knows are in the house behind me.

Curiously, one of the things Doug was given on arrival was a guide on how to deal with the media. There were a couple of journos at the airport, but he gave them the flick. I’m glad he chose to speak to me. I’ve edited some answers to avoid specific identifying details, and while Doug was open and honest with me, I’ve chosen to omit some of the more harrowing aspects of how the process has left him emotionally. All I’ll say is that he’s doing it tough.

I start by asking Doug about his life in Australia.

TRP: Where’s home?

Doug: Sydney, out west. Never even left the state, really. Never been up the east coast or anything.

Were you working?

Yep, owned a business, employed 4 subbies. We supplied goods and services to retailers.

But you ended up in jail. How long for?

I was sentenced to two months, but when I was due for parole, I was told that they were going to send me to NZ and when I said I’d appeal, they said I’d have to serve the parole inside. So they locked me up for the length of the parole period. Another six months.

What happened to the business?

It’s gone. It crumbled. I couldn’t run it from jail and couldn’t sell it from there either. No cellphones, no internet. I was moved around from centre to centre. I couldn’t keep up.

You’ve had some previous issues?

Yep. Look, I grew up in the Western suburbs. It wasn’t easy. It’s tough. I made mistakes, but I paid for them, cleaned up, got it together. I’ve rented a bit, but mostly lived with mum.

Doug and I talk more about his life in Australia. About league, about cricket, about growing up in the vast western suburbs of Sydney. He’s open about going off track as a young man. But he says he’s clean and he looks it. He looks me straight in the eye when he answers questions. No bullshit.

He’s a physically strong young man, fit and quietly powerful in his manner. Not threatening, but self-assured. But that strength disappeared when we talk about his family.

All his siblings are there. His mum. His son. Doug’s boy lives with his ex. She’s since remarried and when I ask him if she’d bring their son to visit him here in NZ, the façade crumbles. It’s obvious that it’s not going to happen. I look at him and wished I hadn’t asked.

TRP: When did you realise you were going to be deported?

Doug: Well, I got some warnings that it might happen in the past, but it didn’t seem real. I wasn’t a rapist or a murderer, y’know? I’m not a threat to national security! And I was over my younger stuff. I just didn’t think it would happen to me.

What’s the mood of the Kiwis in the detention facility?

Frustrated, desperate. It’s not too bad in some ways, better than jail. There’s no work, but there are activities. Family access is better, too. Much better than jail. But it’s hard taking civil action in there. It’s difficult to organise. There’s a lot of depression. The asylum seekers too.

A week ago, in the detention centre, you were given a choice; Christmas Island or NZ. That’s right?

They got a few of us Kiwis together then one by one put papers in front of us. They told us if we didn’t volunteer to be deported to NZ, we’d be off to Christmas Island then and there. I had enough, I signed. I read the papers after I signed.

Why not go to Christmas Island?

Well, we knew a bit about it from guys who’d been in and out of there and from the news. We had TV and some internet access in the detention centre. It wasn’t a good option. My mum made me promise I’d go to NZ if they threatened me with Christmas Island.

We talk for a while about the residency appeal process. Despite John Key’s assurance that the deportees could easily appeal from here, there’s a snag.

First they have to pay back the Australian Federal Government the cost of the flight home.

Not just their flight, but return fares for the two cops who accompany each deportee on the plane. The best part of three grand before they can even get started. That minor detail must have gone down Key’s memory hole.

And the appeal process is deemed to have started when he was first moved to an immigration detention centre.

All the work done on his behalf and all the letters he sent himself from prison didn’t count. He sent dozens of letters fighting for his residency. Immigration claim they only received one. He lost two months of the appeal process without even knowing it.

TRP: When you were given the choice of Christmas Island or voluntary deportation, did you have access to a lawyer?

Doug: No, it was sign or else. No lawyer. I did have help in my residency appeal, but no legal aid. It’s thousands to fight deportation and get residency, $5 -10 thousand minimum. But I think I had nearly got the appeal granted and my residency sorted and maybe that’s why they moved on me in the detention centre.

Did you have reasonable choices?

Not really. It wasn’t so bad in the detention centre because we had better communication, cellphones, but not smartphones, and I could meet the immigration case officer.  But I don’t think that would be the case on Christmas Island. The process is designed to break you down. And it did. I was falling apart. So I signed the papers.

Did your family see you off at the airport?

No, they weren’t allowed. I was handcuffed from the centre to the airport and put on the plane. They only took the cuffs off on board. I guess they didn’t want to scare the stewardesses.

Despite John Key’s assurances that leaving Australia is a good option, there is no extra support immediately available. Effectively, it’s just like he’s just been released from a Kiwi prison, but he’s committed no crime here. There is no immediate help for the extraordinary psychological strain he is dealing with. No ongoing counselling, no guidance to orientate him to his new life.

TRP: What did you know about deportation to NZ?

Doug: I saw Key on TV saying it was a good idea to go. He said we could fight it from NZ and we’d be free.

But you’re not free. You have conditions put on you haven’t you? You’re kind of on parole here, aren’t you?

Yep. It’s parole. The guys from Corrections have been good, I think they are sorting a benefit out, but the town I’m in is pretty small. It’s like a farm! And there’s no work. I’ll probably have to move to Wellington or Auckland. I want to work.

How were the police when you arrived?

Good. Really good! The police and the parole people were really helpful. It was funny, really. The police and the corrections guys had the new laws with them at the airport and they had to keep reading them to work out what they were supposed to do. It’s all new to them too.

John Key said you could fight it from NZ. Now that you’re here, do you think that’s realistic?

No, not really. Your chances drop, because you’re no longer a priority. You’re gone.

I met Doug in the provincial city he has been relocated to. He’s being put up by relatives. They’ve never met before, but they are the only people in New Zealand whose names he knows. It’s been weird for them, too. They were vetted by Corrections and their home given the once over. It’s not like they asked to be in this situation, but they’re determined to help.

TRP: What about the locals? Have you been asked why you’re here?

Doug: Actually, a taxi driver asked if I was one of the deported and I also got asked in a coffee shop. I told them I was a tourist.

What would you say to the Australian Government?

Lighten up! Relax the laws, its hurting people who aren’t really a risk. I understand for murderers and serious crims, but … But Turnbull is pretty firm and the immigration minister, Dutton, he’s evil.

What would you say to the NZ Government?

There’s not a lot NZ can do. It’s nothing to do with New Zealand. That meeting (Key and Turnbull) did nothing.

What can ordinary Kiwi’s do?

Not much. In Oz there’s a facebook page, iwi, which has some good stuff and there was Kelvin.

Kelvin Davis? The MP?

Yep. I heard he went to Christmas Island. But there’s not much Kiwis can do, really.
Doug does have the support of his relatives here in NZ. But he’s staying with people he’s never previously met. They’re his blood, but they’re strangers, too. I’m struck by just how wonderful it is that they would take him in. They’re not judging him, they’re not prying into his life. They’re just there for him because it’s the right thing to do.

But they’re not counsellors, and it’s pretty clear that being exiled from all he knows is taking a toll on Doug. He’s bewildered by what’s happened, unsure of what his future will be and he is desperately missing his family.

Everything Doug knew, loved and relied on is gone from his life.

He’s a stranger in a strange land, a man alone.

TRP: Is this fair? The deportation?

Doug. No. Definitely not.

What do you want to do?

I want to go home.

 

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UK Election: May’s Mandate Munted

Unelected Tory PM Theresa May called an early general election on April 18th, saying that she needed a mandate for Brexit. At the time, it was hailed as a masterstroke and it was assumed the Conservatives would romp to victory. But now … not so much.

Current polling suggests that her margin of victory will be slim to non-existent and the actual mandate for leaving Europe that her predecessor David Cameron unintentionally won in 2015 will evaporate.

Mark my words, this election is going to be a disaster for the right in England, even if May scrapes home. The rest of Britain will continue to vote for others, as they usually do.

UKIP will cease to be a force in British politics (and they’ve already lost nearly every council seat they previously held). Their only practical function will be to drain votes from the Tories. The current polls show UKIP’s vote halving from around 10%, with some going to the Conservatives. However, it appears that some of their working class support has reverted to Labour.

One irony of May’s situation is that support for her party has actually increased by 2% since April. It’s just that Labour has done much, much better.

Britain, outside England, will continue to reject Brexit, and there will be a significant softening of the right’s vote in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I expect the vote for the small local parties in NI and Wales to increase, though that may not deliver more seats. The antiquated and undemocratic ‘first past the post’ system is intended to deliver monolithic results and that smothers most smaller parties.

In Scotland, I believe Labour will make small gains against the Nationalists, though the overall seat distribution won’t markedly change. The SNP simply hasn’t delivered for Scotland yet, but there is still considerable goodwill toward Nicola Sturgeon. It would be asking a lot for Labour to turn that around.

What is going to happen overall is that the Tories will probably ‘win’ by 5-10 seats with the help of the Irish right parties and a resurgent Labour will pick up 10-15 seats, still well shy of becoming the Government.

A word of caution though; the polls aren’t always right.

The Conservatives currently have a working majority of 17 in the 650 seat parliament. Any result less than that will not only be a rejection of Theresa May, it will bring into question whether Brexit should be pursued at all.

Jeremy Corbyn has said he won’t stand down post-election and on these numbers, he’d be right to stay.  There’s almost certainly going to be a call for another referendum on Europe and Labour will have the luxury of watching the right tear itself apart over the matter.

Even if he loses, Jeremy Corbyn is going to be the big winner on June 8.


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