Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bribery, Corruption, and Pragmatism

I've recovered pretty much completely from the vastness of the student election bribe, and oddly found my experience of it reflected on Tim Barnett's blog today. Disbelief, followed by fine-detail combing, followed by 'well bugger me, it does seem to be as good as it sounds'. Or as Tim says:

True to form this generally somewhat cynical group did not accept it with open arms, but instead examined the fine print and looked for the trick. I can understand their disillusion with politics, so think that initial reaction was fair enough.

Yeah, that'd be it in a nutshell. There's a particular strand in the opposition to the policy (just a strand, mind, they're not all saying this) that says that students aren't doing this, that they're too silly to work out what their loan costs them or how long it takes to pay it back. Just a tip, guys: this probably isn't going to get you any support back from the people you're calling idiots.

Me personally, I HATE being bribed. It really gets my hackles up. But I'm not going to reject a policy that's, IMO, the right thing to do, just because it benefits my family. I'm also not going to reject it because it doesn't go far enough.

I'm a pragmatist, or at least I try to be. One of my little mantras is 'what do I want, what's the best way to go about getting it'. We're not going to get capped loans and universal allowance and loan write-offs all at once. That's simply too big to swallow. It's easier to get people to accept things in small doses. Likewise, I'm a fervent supporter of gay marriage, but I accept civil unions as a stepping stone.

In the spirit of pragmatism, I'll be quite interested to watch the shape of the Labour campaign from here on in, because I do wonder if they know what they're doing. They led out with what, it seems, is their biggest trump. Then they played their apprenticeship card so close to that that hardly anyone noticed. It's the kind of useful but unspectacular policy that people don't take much notice of unless it directly affects them anyway, but still... if it were me, I'd want two more big cards. One for when National's tax policy comes out, and another to close on. The polling is interesting, but infuriates me a little because it's pretty clear, I think, that this election is going to be decided by swingers and undecideds, and you have to dig to find the figures on undecideds, if they're available at all.

And I've been quietly musing on which is the biggest campaign mistake so far, Clark's fluffy makeover for the Australian Women's Weekly, or Don Brash and the stockcar. Both were fairly excrutiating: even the least-involved potential voter knows Helen's not a prom queen and Don's not an ordinary average guy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More Policy

Well. I'm not sure, looking at my last post, whether today's Labour tertiary policy makes me looks prescient or a proper charlie. But when I hit the news of the interest write-off at No Right Turn this afternoon in my half hour of peace while Spongebob Squarepants is on, I had a couple of reactions.

The first was exactly the same very rude word my partner used when I pointed him at it. The second was, if it's true.

I am a natural cynic. And surely, it's been fifteen years and a pretty comprehensive change of personnel. Can't I start trusting the Labour Party again? This particular government has a reputation for doing what it says it will. I don't know how accurate that is because I haven't been sitting here for the last six years with a Labour Party manifesto and a highlighter, but that's the general impression.

So, if I get over the air of 'too good to be true' for a moment, which is a struggle, this is good for us. It's also good for an awful lot of people we know, too. Our debt, which is my partners officially, is pretty much $10 000. Now, we're about six years behind most of our contemporaries because my protracted illness meant my partner was out of the workforce. During that time, interest kept accruing. I was lucky with my education: my family was dirt poor and I got a full allowance, and for the first couple of years of study, 10% fees. That meant the money set aside for my education as part of a bequest actually paid for it. I reached a point where I was asked to do a Masters, and I said no, because another year would have meant getting a loan. Like a number of people from my kind of background, I'm violently allergic to getting into debt.

Our situation isn't as bad as some of our friends, who have loans in excess of 60k. Who have loans pressuring them to go back to work after having children. Because you can hear the interest building up. And like most people our age, we know an awful lot of people who live in Sydney.

So, several points out of this.
  • previous to this, loans deterred some people not so much from study in the first place, but from further study they were capable of, because the weight of debt becomes oppressive.
  • I don't think, given the way loans are structured now, that it'll lead to a huge increase in borrowing. An awful lot of students borrowed without ever thinking about what it was costing them anyway. They treated the money as if it WAS free.
  • it works to decrease the gender inequity with loans. I don't see this as a wimmin's issue per se. With us the primary caregiver dicked over in this fashion was male. But that whole feminism thing is a whole other can of worms I don't have room to open right now.
  • it's demonstrably fairer than National's policy as well as more generous. See point above, and also, the tax rebate is bigger the more you make, ergo the less assistance you need, the more you get. Where people affected by illness and unemployment who don't actually make big bucks out of their degrees catch a break this way. And while Bill English is talking about this giving money to rich people and trying to make my irony filter explode, compared with people the same age, it takes graduates longer to earn more. They sacrifice earning potential to study, and then it takes a while to catch up, which is the period where the interest is building. Not all graduates are rich.
  • National really have just shafted themselves here. How can they argue? They can't say we can't afford it, because they've just spent weeks saying how much money we've got for a tax cut. They called it a bribe. Okay. WTF is a tax cut? And students must be worth targeting because they already tried it.
So yeah, as far as personal benefit goes? This is big. This is us actually looking at the future and thinking, maybe one day we can own our own home. We weren't taking on a mortgage before the loan was gone. And when the loan is gone, we do GET a tax cut, we change tax codes. And we can look at paying it off as we can, knowing that it will actually get smaller, not just get bigger more slowly.

Yeah. This is big. This is me dithering.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Policy

Heh, people wondering why women don't seem to be as 'political' as men might like to consider how long it's taken me to get back here during the school holidays.

So, being a student-loaned household, we looked forward to the announcement of National's promised policy eagerly. Not so much for itself, because I couldn't picture them doing anything significant enough to make it worth my while financially to vote for them, but because maybe they could shame/scare Labour into responding with something real.

Well. What a pisser. After the build-up, the policy turns out to be totally meaningless. Who's going to not move to Sydney for a $200 rebate? Our own personal benefit from the policy would be a much smaller rebate than that, and not worth the reduced income on a week by week basis I see coming from a National government, given that we're a family that benefits from Working for Families.

With this, and their childcare rebate, National seemed to have missed the fact that, for ordinary, "mainstream" families, a little bit extra in your pocket every week is a lot handier than a moderate chunk of money at the end of the year. A tax rebate doesn't actually HELP you pay for childcare. So once again, they're actually benefiting the people who need it least.

What would have actually helped us with the student loan burden? Not getting so much debt in the first place. That means a universal allowance, so it's not financially better to be unemployed than studying. A higher repayment threshhold, adjusted for inflation, and no interest incurred until you pass the repayment threshhold. Because if you're making less than $20k a year? You're probably not using your degree.

The one policy of the week that seemed sound and significant was the Greens' drug policy. I don't want my kids carrying a criminal conviction because they had a joint as a teenager. Oh, sorry, because they got CAUGHT, because more than half of New Zealanders have smoked dope. If everyone who'd committed that crime carried a conviction for it, that'd be an awful lot of productive members of society. And me as well. And I inhaled.



Now, this is going to sound awful, but I'm putting my emotions aside for a moment and just being pragmatic. Has anyone seriously considered what'll happen to the poll ratings should David Lange die in the run-up to the election? Because it doesn't seem out of the question.

Really wish the government would stop being coy and just announce the election date. And say, no, we don't want to have it sooner, we have stuff we need to get done first.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Tolerance

Stuff often amuses me. This morning is a fabulous example of their 'subtle' manipulation. There's a photograph of a Muslim man staring bleakly through a broken window. Below, there's a poll: Is New Zealand becoming a less tolerant and accepting society? Right now it's running at about 65-35 to the 'yes' vote. Less tolerant than when? Thirty years ago when no-one here knew what a mosque was?

Okay, yes, I admit it. While I'm here as a voter rather than a political pundit, what I have in common with the pundits is that sometimes the stupidity of the 'average voter' makes me want to spit. While I'm never going to be swayed by what it says on page 128 of your party's manifesto or notice any policy you can't get media coverage for, at least I don't change my mind on fundamentals every time someone writes a headline.

I loathe the word 'tolerance'. I know this is nitpicky of me, and it doesn't stop me donating to religioustolerance.org. But I'd rather use the word 'acceptance' - tolerance is for things you don't like but can't do anything about. Family Christmases, for instance.

New Zealand is, slowly and stably, becoming a more accepting country. I was raised in a very white town, completely monocultural. My children attend a school that's about 50% pakeha, 25% Samoan, and the rest made up of pretty much anything you can name. Somali, Afghani, Chinese... and the thing is, the kids aren't tolerant of each other. They just don't notice. They don't notice race. It's not a factor.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the mosque vandalism, we're way behind when it comes to religion. Despite the fact that it's illegal to teach religion in state primary schools, they're still singing hymns in assembly, teaching "Easter" as a topic (we were assured this would be balanced by teaching on other religions, that was three years ago, we're still waiting), giving chocolate to children who can correctly answer Bible questions, organising school trips to Bible shows...

"Community" is a really difficult thing to define, intangible, and yet I've never had the slightest doubt that, because our family isn't Christian, we don't quite belong in the school community. At least I was raised in the traditions and can fake it when necessary. I can only imagine how much worse it is for the families at that school who are Hindu, Muslim, Shinto...

A dear friend of mine put it beautifully. Religion belongs in your heart, in your home, and in your church if you have one. But not at school.

Monday, July 04, 2005

And so it begins

I got a pamphlet from Jim in my letterbox this morning. It seems he wants me to vote for him because they want to raise the drinking age back to 20, and ban party pills and NOs. Gotta say, not a winning strategy in my house.

When my daughter turns 18, I want her to be drinking in a relatively safe environment. Inside pubs and clubs. I said RELATIVELY safe. Safer, for instance, than down a back road in the back of some guy's car like I did when I was... okay, you got me there, 16. When I was in high school the drinking age was 20 but it was never enforced. Yes, as I get older teenagers increasingly look like idiots, but make it 18 and enforce it, and add education. Most other countries manage it. What I would like to see raised is the driving age.

Banning NOs, unbelievably pointless. What does he think those kids are going to do, all give up and go home and start studying? No, as far as I can see, from an ordinary-voter POV, all that the Progressives' drug and alcohol policy has actually done is double the price of my cooking sherry. Bastards.


So. The Greens. Piss me off. I find that on about 80% of issues, they make perfect sense. But they chose to make GE their landmark issue, and they made a hash of it. I don't mean they didn't get votes, they did. But they did it by tossing scientific credibility out the window and indulging in scaremongering.

And then you hit a really serious issue like climate change and alternative energy policies, where you really NEED scientific credibility, and lo, it's gone.

Genetic engineering isn't all toad genes in potatoes like my mother's bumper sticker says. Every time you eat, you're digesting the DNA of other organisms. Humans have been trying to improve on plants and animals as long as we've had agriculture. What GE allows us to do is cut out all the tedious and expensive mucking around cross-breeding things hoping to get the traits you want. You can, for instance, isolate the gene in one strain of apples that provides resistance to black spot, put it in another strain that taste really nice, and then grow those apples without having to spray for the disease - ie organically.

It was the GE policy that stopped me from voting Green last time, even though I agree with most of their policy platforms, and see a party containing some of the most sensible and talented MPs around. They may still get my PARTY vote this time around, but it is actually contingent on them not doing anything pink-bra stupid in the meantime. And if Metiria Turei was standing in Wigram, I'd vote for her.

Friday, July 01, 2005

As I was saying...

I'm not getting into an argument over climate change on first principles. Look, I have a lot of people to offend here, and if I waste all my time on climate change deniers, I'll never get round to pissing people off over abstinence or intelligent design.

Co-incidentally, the Guardian is featuring special reports on global warming today. They at least seem to have noticed that when it gets warmer people don't actually flourish, they die.



Don Brash's announcement that National would pay NZC's fine for defaulting on the tour to Zimbabwe is unbelievably generous. Literally. I suspect he's looking at the initial $2 million fine, and not the overall costs, which people who actually know what they're talking about put at closer to $40m, given the Indian television rights. But given the nuclear policy gone by lunchtime, taxcuts by Christmas track record of the man, if he promised YOU he wouldn't leave you carrying a $40m can, would you believe him?

It's crystal clear from this that National party "policy" (or at least, pre-election promises which will, I'm dead sure, bear absolutely no resemblance to actual policy) is entirely dictated by opinion polls.