Joe Hendren

[ Home ] [ Articles ] [ Blog Home ] [ Travel ] [ Links] [About Me]

Monday, June 22, 2009

Turn the Beehive into a Prison - Collins

The Beehive will be converted into the Wellington Central Prison, Corrections Minister Judith Collins announced today. Ministers of the Crown will move their offices into shipping containers on the lawn outside Parliament.

"The proposal will result in significant cost savings for the taxpayer, and members of John Key's Government will be housed in offices fitting their station" said Judith Collins.

Ms Collins noted the Beehive already possessed useful security features.
"Due to the circular design, anyone attempting to escape via the lift will not be certain as to what direction they are facing. Security cameras are already in place throughout the building."

"As all entrances of the Beehive are already equipped with metal detectors and security scanners, little additional expenditure will be required in order to turn the Beehive into a correctional facility."

"As New Zealanders expect of a National Government, we are thinking about lowering costs, and not much else."

Ms Collins was also enthusiastic about the idea of using shipping crates for ministerial offices. "I will support anything so long as it has a heat pump"

"The lack of windows is a great advantage, particularly when eggs are an occupational hazard."

The current parliamentary cafe, Bellamy's, will need to be significantly upgraded in order to serve prison food to the required standard.

Prime Minister John Key was shocked at the high cost of ministerial offices. "That is an outrageous sum of money, that is more than the average cost of the average New Zealand home. I can't see that the public are going to support a situation where politicians are going to be put in an office that cost more than their house," Mr Key said.

When asked whether the crates would allow the Prime Minister to remove ministers by truck in the middle of the night, Mr Key declined to comment.

Rethinking Crime and Punishment director Kim Workman questioned whether it was humane to inflict a building of questionable 1970s taste on prisoners. "I guess one advantage of having ministers housed in the crates is that the entire cabinet can be shipped off to the Hague if that becomes necessary."
All the quotes above are made up for the purpose of taking the piss. With the minister supporting downright silly ideas, serious comment is more than it deserves. We only need more prison space because politicians from both the major parties have legislated for longer and longer sentences. So it seems entirely appropriate a prison is build in their own backyard.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bain evidence: hearing what you want to hear

In the forth form* I had a memorable music teacher called Mr Williams. He looked and sounded like a mad professor, strode around the class with exaggerated movements and told risque jokes. Which of course endeared him to most forth formers (year 10). Mr Williams was a lot of fun.

One day he rigged up an ancient reel to real tape machine so we could attempt to answer a famous question in musical folklore. Does playing Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven backwards reveal satanic messages? While it is true that guitarist Jimmy Page is quite the fan of Alistair Crowley, the fact that this conspiracy was uncovered by the American Christian right ought to make most people run to the church of high skepticism.

On first listen it sounded to most like the strange groaning of something being played backwards. Mr Williams then suggested what some of the words might be, and where to hear them. Around half the class exclaimed 'oh yeah' while the arch sceptics laughed and said it was all nonsense.

That in a nutshell is what happened with the tape of David Bain's emergency call. The police claimed he said 'I shot the prick'. On hearing the tape on the news tonight I am certain I could hear less of the accused words in the Bain tape than I could hear in the backwards Stairway all those years ago. It was simply meaningless garble. The NZ Herald reports.

"...the words had not been recognised in the first trial in 1994 and did not form part of the transcript. Nor had the ambulance officer who took the call heard them. When the ambulance officer was again played the tape after the police detective said the words were there, he had heard "I shot the prick, I shot" and said he was "stunned that I hadn't heard the words previously."

Just as the Christian right had a reason to go after Led Zeppelin, the police had reasons to 'want' to find something to convict their 'man'. Its significant that some of the people advising the police on the case told them not to use it - no doubt they saw as as simply crap evidence that was only going to damage the police case in the eyes of the judiciary. Which it did. Should it have been suppressed? Perhaps the judiciary were trying to help the police save face, as the police have done precious little to help themselves in their conduct of the Bain case. Chief Justice Sian Elias said the evidence was not relevant nor reliable.

This highlights a key problem with the police investigation. The police decided early on that Bain was guilty. So much so, they didn't even bother to collect evidence from the scene that would suggest otherwise. It sounds like a case of Groupthink amongst the police - a similar rationalised conformity in decision making lay at the heart of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Evidence of the abuse of Laniet by her father gave Robin Bain a strong motive - but the police failed to investigate this option properly. I am inclined to believe Robin was involved somehow, but without the full potential evidence we will never know for sure. It is also possible a proper investigation may have uncovered evidence to indicate Robin's innocence.

So in essence, the police investigation failed the entire family.

PS: A severe lack of critical thinking was also evident with the decisions of our major media outlets to run this as the major news story with headlines like 'I shot the prick' - the next time they criticise the blogosphere for promoting dodgy claims in an irresponsible fashion they deserve to be mocked.

* slight edit - I think I Mr Williams was our third form music teacher, rather than the forth form. It was a few years ago now!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The legacy of neo-liberalism on family life - some thoughts from Blackball

I wrote most of the following post around three weeks ago, and was always intending to go back and finish it. I thought it might be an opportune time after seeing a related item on the news tonight.

A neonatal paediatrician is warning parents to do all they can to avoid putting their young children in daycare, saying it could permanently harm their developing brains. Dr Simon Rowley advocates for a parent to stay home with children in the early years if they can. He cites research looking at the hormone cortisol that found 80% of children in daycare become more stressed during the day, with toddlers showing the highest levels of stress.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Sarah Farquhar has taken issue with Dr Rowley .
"It's going back to the times of women being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. That's not healthy for children and it's not healthy for women . . . making parents feel guilty about their choices is not the way to go."
The Early Childhood Council also happens to be protecting its market - as an organisation representing private childcare centres. Kids are their source of cash.

Now its possible that Dr Rowley is running a socially conservative agenda here, particularly when he blames the social policies of Helen Clark, and many social conservatives demonise Clark. Yet to leave the issue there I think does the left a disservice, as it may leave empty political ground for socially conservative politicians if the left is not seen to be engaging with the issues in a deeper way.

What got me thinking about this was a very interesting discussion during the Blackball May Day celebrations earlier this year. We looked at the legacy of neo-liberalism in New Zealand, with a focus on its affect on family life.

I am greatly thankful to my fellow participants for helping me think about the issues in new ways.
The Blackball Working Class History Project now has a blog.

This year I attended the May Day celebrations in Blackball. It was an enjoyable and engaging weekend. As 2008 was the 100th anniversary of the famous Blackball miners strike, the numbers were smaller in 2009, but this allowed the issues to be covered in greater depth.

On the Saturday morning a forum was held on The Legacy of Neo-Liberalism. Many people prepared provocations for the forum in order to start the discussion. Rather than focus on economics and the undemocratic nature of how neo-liberalism was forced on the electorate, many people spoke of the legacy of neo-liberalism on families and family life.

It is great to see many of these contributions from the forum now appearing online. Paul Manuder has written a rundown of the weekend. Sandra and others highlighted the punative attitude of many government departments.

"I’ve got a friend in Greymouth who cares for her baby granddaughter, her ten year old son and her suicidal adult son. Can someone tell me why this woman, this mother, grandmother, carer of our most vulnerable, is being badgered by WINZ to get paying employment?"

I believe part of the explanation for this lies with the Social Security Amendment Act passed by the last Labour Government. This Act changed the whole purpose of the Act famously passed by Michael Joseph Savage in 1938. Rather than a focus on the welfare of the community, the focus came on getting a job - any job - as the only legitimate form of social assistance. I suggested Savage would be turning in his grave if he knew about these changes.

To return to the focus on the impact of neo-liberalism on family life, it was interesting that many saw the lack of family time due to financial pressure as a key problem. For example, a local teacher, Te Whaea Ireland saw many children with a desperate need for one on one contact with adults. Sandra summarised Te Whaea's comments like this.

"Parents love their children but the children are stressed. Families are stressed through everyone working long hours to survive economically. Children are arriving at school earlier, then there’s after school care, there’s no adult with the time to help with homework, no time for mooching- that stress-free space which generates self management, relatedness, creativity etc. The family is no longer functioning as a nurturing unit. She saw among her peer group, the stress in terms of a young couple trying to acquire a home and to have a family. She saw the traditional homemaker, once gender equality is accepted, as a valid and vital role in society."

It ought to be stressed that Te Whaea was not advocating a socially conservative agenda, as she assumes the acceptance of gender equity. Freedom and equity should aim to give people greater choices. The issue is that due to financial pressure parents no longer have the choice whether they wish to work OR be a homemaker.

Essentially, over the past 50 years employers have used the rightful work aspirations of women to halve 'real' family incomes - double incomes are now required to raise families in most cases. The Employment Contracts Act made the situation worse. I do not wish to go back to the 1950s here - what I am highlighting is how New Zealand employers and their right wing friends have used this societal change to their own economic advantage.

In terms of policy responses the following might be a useful starting point. The challenge of the left is not only to announce such policies but to demonstrate how they are relevant to the issues currently facing families. I am not sure the left has done so yet, or as effectively as it might.
  • A new industrial relations framework which delivers a fairer share of company profits to families (the new Australian legislation might be worth looking at - particularly if we are serious about a real CER that is not limited to just what the business community wants)
  • A minimum wage set at two thirds of the average wage (sign the Unite petition)
  • Universal Basic Income (which would recognise the currently unpaid work of homemakers)
  • A year or more of paid parental leave.
  • More research on children's experiences on daycare - are there ways to make it less stressful and more confortable for the kids?
I very much welcome comments on this post, as I feel as if I am still working out the issues as I go.

During the Blackball forum I also suggested that the Clark Labour Government may be seen by future historians as playing a key role in embedding neo-liberalism as it deliberately avoided changing any of the neo-liberal legislation or the aggressive 'free trade' policies of the forth Labour Government. Despite the country voting left in 1999, the Reserve Bank Act, the Public Finance Act, the State Sector Act and a strict orthodoxy of 'balanced budgets' remained. Even after nine years. Indeed it is significant that in his valedictory speech the former Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen spoke of his pride in pursuing free trade agreements and maintaining a socially progressive but fiscally conservative party.

I respected Cullen's intellect and his wit a great deal, but I always thought his views on the inevitability and the desirability of the WTO version of the global market were simply pollyanna. While he did renationalise the railways, this was only after costing the country millions by entering into a failed public-private partnership with Toll Holdings in 2004. In 2003 he had the opportunity buy the railways on the cheap and to tell Toll to noddy off, but did not do so.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, June 08, 2009

Musing on Mt Albert poll

A poll out tonight shows Labour's David Shearer will win the Mt Albert by-election easily.

The TV One poll had Shearer coasting at 59%. National's disaster of a candidate Melissa Lee could only manage 21% support. She is in real danger of being relegated to third place in the contest, with the Greens Russel Norman at her heels on 15%.

TV One also polled on the party vote in the electorate (even though there is no such thing in a by-election). Jordan Carter finds good news here too - compared to the 2008 election result Labour have gained 6% additional party vote support in the electorate- this essentially puts numbers on the damage Melissa Lee has done to John Key's government.

Now that we can safely assume Labour are going to win. Labour and the left could make this an even sweeter victory if Russel Norman beats Melissa Lee - in this case I really hope some Labour supporters consider voting tactically for the Green.

With a 38% margin - could David shout Russel 8% and then share a drink over a really bad night for the National Government?

Of course the Labour leadership will be pushing for the highest vote possible for Labour. Most of the time this will also be in the interests of party members - but not always. In 2005 many Labour party activists were understandably dismayed when the senior leadership of their party, given the choice, formed a government with Winston Peters and Peter Dunne and excluded the Greens.

Labour and the Greens winning both first and second place in this by-election is in the interests of both parties. Not only will Labour retain the seat, a credible showing by the Greens will help build momentum and credibility for an alternative Government in 2011. The next election may be a while away yet, but Labour would be wise to give the Greens a few lilly pads forward, at little cost to itself, in order that the overall position of the centre-left is strengthened.
PS: Haven't been posting recently as I have been in Aussie over the past two weeks. Hope to make a couple of roo related posts later in the week.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mt Albert candidates debate on Wednesday

Good to hear TVNZ 7's Backbenches show is making an appearance in Auckland for a Mt Albert by-election special. The candidate debates so far have been fiery and fun!

I will be heading along to the Neighbourhood Brew Bar in Kingsland at 8.30pm on Wednesday. Relying on free to air TV, I don't get TVNZ 7 so this will be the first backbenches show I have seen.

Backbenches will screen live from Mt Albert from 9.07pm on TVNZ 7.

The panel:
ACT MP John Boscawen, Green MP & Co-Leader Russel Norman, Labour Candidate David Shearer, National MP Melissa Lee, and United Future Candidate Judy Turner.

TVNZ say 'be there or be square'. I suspect many of us politico geeks might resemble that remark already :)

Labels: ,