Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni (Radio NZ – Richard Tindiller)
Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni (Radio NZ – Richard Tindiller)

The BulletinMay 6, 2019

The Bulletin: Govt underwhelms with welfare report response

Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni (Radio NZ – Richard Tindiller)
Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni (Radio NZ – Richard Tindiller)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Negative reaction to government’s welfare report response, deep concern for Victim Support-held money, and a closer look at Panuku and Auckland CCOs.

There’s significant disquiet over the small scale of the government’s response to the Welfare working group’s report. When the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report was released on Friday afternoon, there were three immediate responses made by the government. The details of those announcements are here, and they involve the removal of punitive sanctions against solo mothers who don’t name the father of their child, a rise in abatement rates for working beneficiaries in line with the minimum wage, and 263 more frontline staff.

However, the vast majority of the report has not immediately been picked up by the government – read the full version hereThe spending proposals are analysed by Stuff’s Henry Cooke, who notes that the price of the changes of $286 million over four years is minuscule compared to the costings for a total implementation of the report, which would be in the billions. To add to that, the confirmed commitments had already been advocated for by Labour and the Greens, and they won’t come in until April next year.

More of the dozens of recommendations may be implemented in time, but there’s a vast disconnect between the report and the response. From a political perspective, that dramatically undermines the government’s declaration that is transformational, argues Radio NZ’s Tim Watkin in this strong column. He also makes the point that it’s not exactly the first time the government has received a bold working group report, and basically said thanks but no thanks. This should also be set against the stirring rhetoric that has come from the government on reforming welfare.

Minister Carmel Sepuloni went on Newshub Nation over the weekend, and was immediately asked to defend the government’s response to the report. She says the response fits in with wider cultural changes being made at MSD, and hinted that there could be more to come in the Budget. But it has all left former MP and anti-poverty advocate Sue Bradford furious. Writing on The Spinoff, she isn’t at all hopeful that further changes will be coming this term, and says the government’s response is an insult to the work undertaken by the WEAG. She also says there are many petty and punitive sanctions which add stress and hardship in the lives of beneficiaries, and they’ll be staying in place. And on the other side of the political divide, Radio NZ reports that even though the National party disagreed with the vast majority of the report, they’re still taking the opportunity to label the response as “pathetic.”

What was actually in the report? Max Rashbrooke analysed it for Radio NZ, and found a fundamental shift in thinking away from punitive approaches to welfare, and towards a system underpinned by support being the goal. It outlined what that would look like in practice – a big rise in benefit levels, far more funding for retraining programmes, and limits on other sanctions that can be applied, for example. And the moves made by the government on sanctions and abatement rates will noticeably improve the lives of beneficiaries currently affected.

But for many beneficiaries, Friday’s changes will basically mean nothing. And to understand why that matters, this piece on The Spinoff by Hannah McGowan is must-read. She has raised children on a benefit for many years, and outlines the extreme difficulty of doing that while also too sick to work a full time job. “Our current WINZ system is designed to deter people from relying on it for too long or developing what has been labelled ‘welfare dependency’. This assumes that being on welfare is a choice we make,” she wrote.

There’s deep concern about money held by Victim Support that was donated to those affected by the Christchurch attacks. Radio NZ reports families and those who were in the mosques on the day are desperate for more help, amid the immense and ongoing trauma. $19.5 million or so was donated in the aftermath of the attacks, but so far it appears only about $3 million has been distributed. Other money has been earmarked for long term support, but Victim Support won’t give a timeline on when or how it will actually be distributed.

Stephen Forbes from Interest has taken a comprehensive look into the activities of Panuku, particularly their Northcote development. It expands significantly on the overseeing role they play in urban developments, and the long term scope of their projects – Northcote is expected to be finished in 2030. It also outlines criticisms made of their performances from mayoral candidate John Tamihere (foreshadowed here) and Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust.

Meanwhile, the NZ Herald is reporting this morning that if re-elected, mayor Phil Goff will conduct a review of Council Controlled Organisations like Panuku. He too has been stepping up his attacks on CCOs in recent weeks, but says in general terms they’ve had a lot of success to celebrate.

Ancestral Māori land in Taranaki has been put up for oil and gas drilling tender, reports Leigh-Marama McLachlan for Radio NZ. There’s a lot of concern from some iwi representatives who were quoted, who say that in contrast to the usual assumption that fossil fuel exploration bringing economic development, the real opportunities for the area are in keeping the whenua healthy. The tender closes at the end of August, and it’s likely to be another one of those battles that drags on for a long time.

An agreement has been signed to improve the lives of Filipino construction workers in New Zealand, reports Stuff. They face significant exploitation, and there have been multiple examples of contracts being breached. The new agreement is between FIRST Union, labour-hire company Extrastaff, and the Union Network of Migrants, and will include raised standards of protection and a living wage as the new minimum.

The long-lasting government of PM Peter O’Neill in Papua New Guinea could be about to fall. RNZ Pacific veteran Johnny Blades reports that a string of MPs and ministers have defected to an opposition grouping, who are gathering numbers for a vote of no-confidence. However, there could be tensions over who takes the job if PM O’Neill is forced out. Currently, opposition MPs are holding court in a Port Moresby hotel.

The Civil Aviation Authority has pushed back strongly against suggestions Queenstown’s runway isn’t safe, reports the NZ Herald. We mentioned this in The Bulletin last week. CAA boss Graeme Harris says even though the length of the runway is the minimum it can be to meet standards, the airport has been audited multiple times, and the CAA is satisfied the safety infrastructure is up to scratch.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Branko Marcetic is concerned that the ‘Christchurch call’ on social media will be derailed by French President Macron – who is building a disturbing record on civil liberties. Sam Brooks meets people behind Auckland’s Satellites group, which highlights the work of Asian artists. Calum Hodgson writes about the fightback in Eketahuna against the loss of a traditional way of making cheese. Michael Andrew tries to get rid of a mattress, and wow it sounds difficult. And Duncan Greive explores the fandom of the band Openside – a band playing theatres that their fans treat like arena shows.

Thank you for the mass of feedback about competing points of view regarding the reporting restrictions on the Christchurch terror trial. Almost all of the emails came in on the side that I advocate – that self-imposed restrictions against promoting white supremacist views (amid general reporting continuing as usual) are an entirely appropriate exception to the general principles of a free press. Theo developed the point by noting Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance – “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Pauline responded to the article this all jumped off, from US magazine Politico: “I find the pronouncements coming out of America especially alarming, when clearly their precedent of allowing the spread of hate and violence masquerading as ‘free speech’ is a complete misinterpretation of the intention of holding thoughtful and responsible dialogue among all people. Not to mention the glorification and celebration amongst the white supremacists of the work done by their mass murderers/terrorists and the general celebrity status all their murderers seem to enjoy.”

There was one email strongly disagreeing with me, from Dan. “Of course anything that is illegal, such as incitement to violence, defamation etc is not included in free speech. We already have robust and clear laws in NZ which cover cases such as these.” He added “our free speech has been fought for for hundreds of years since the Enlightenment, and what scares me is that people such as yourself, seem willing to just throw them away due to your admirable but misguided and over-emotional compassion.” They’re very fair points to make, and I thank Dan for bringing them up.

It’s all over for the Wellington Phoenix’s season after a playoffs loss to Melbourne Victory. It means the end of the brief, promising Mark Rudan era, which certainly restored the dignity of the club but certainly feels unfinished. The new manager has already been announced – it’s current Sydney FC assistant Ufuk Talay. He’s had an impressive career as both a player, and moving up the management ranks. But as Philip Rollo argues on Stuff, he’ll have a hell of a job keeping players like Roy Krishna at the club.

The Central Pulse have maintained their perfect record, in a significant day for the ANZ Premiership. Super Sunday saw all six teams in action in Invercargill, with the Pulse beating the Magic, the Southern Steel thrashing the Northern Mystics, and the Mainland Tactix holding off the Northern Stars. A top 3 is all but secured, with the Pulse and the Steel right up there, and the Stars are probably in too but there is a mathematical chance they could let their first playoffs berth slip away.

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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