Saturday, November 14, 2009

12 arguments against raising the driving age

(re-posted in light of today's news.)

1/ Statistics for young drivers are improving:

In 1986 15 and 16 year-old drivers were involved in 32 fatal accidents and 884 serious crashes.

In 2006 15 and 16 year-old drivers were involved in 16 fatal accidents and 122 serious crashes.

In 1986 15-19 year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes numbered 167 and made up 16.9 % of all crashes.

In 2006 15-19 year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes numbered 64 and made up 11.7 % of all crashes.

2/ The law is being changed by people who enjoyed a privilege they are now seeking to remove, despite their generation’s performance having been demonstrably worse.

3/ Arguments that New Zealand is out of step with the rest of the world are irrelevant;

- We have been out of step for decades yet only now it has become a problem?
- If international standards are an important consideration then why aren’t we raising the age to 18, common in most European countries?

4/ Putting the driving age up does not send the right message to young people. If we want to encourage a culture of personal responsibility and independence this move is counter-productive.

5/ Often it is parents who dictate when their child will learn to drive. They are a better judge than the government.

6/ New Zealand’s road deaths per 100,000 in 2005 were 9.9, just above the OECD median of 9.5. Many OECD countries have a higher road toll rates and higher legal driving ages;
Age deaths per 100,000 in 2005
Poland 17 14.3
Belgium 18 10.4
Portugal 18 11.8
Spain 18 10.2
Czech Republic 17 12.6
Slovakia 18 11.1 (2004)
South Korea 18 10.2
Greece 17 15.0
Hungary 18 12.7
USA 16 14.7

7/ Across Australia the minimum driving ages are;

Minimum driving age:
New South Wales - 17 yrs 7.5
South Australia - 16 yrs 9.6
Victoria - 18 yrs 6.9
Queensland - 17 yrs 8.3
Northern Territory - 17 yrs 27.0
Tasmania - 17 yrs 10.5
Western Australia - 17 yrs 8.1

Obviously there are a range of ages all above 15 with a broad range of results

8/ If this move is successful, when will the calls to raise it higher begin?

9/ The Labour government liberalised rules pertaining to aged driver licensing by removing compulsory tests for 80+ drivers despite their over-representation in road crashes. It would be inconsistent to tighten rules relating to young drivers under the same premise.

10/ Responsible 15 and 16 year-olds will be penalised because of irresponsible 15 and 16 year-olds

11/ Irresponsible 15 and 16 year-olds already break the law by carrying passengers they are not licensed to carry or by travelling with drivers not licensed to carry them. If the driving age is raised they are likely to continue to ignore the law. The result will be more drivers on the road who have no knowledge of road rules or who have not experienced any driver training.

12/ Experience and driver education are vital. The first cannot be gained by delaying the starting age. A lot could be achieved with more of the second.

Ministers at odds with each other?

The Herald reports today, in an article about CYF and child abuse intervention;

The minister [Paula Bennett] also said she was increasingly concerned about the placement of abused Maori children with poorly chosen members of their extended family.

She had asked Child, Youth and Family to compare the progress of Maori children placed with whanau and those placed elsewhere to see what worked best.

We have been here before. In 2000, Peter Douglas, then head of general services, Maori strategy, CYF, urged removal of at-risk Maori children beyond the whanau. He obviously harboured the same concerns as Paula Bennett. No doubt, with good reason.

Tariana Turia, then a Labour MP and associate minister, said, “I am totally opposed to children being raised outside whakapapa links.”

Douglas countered,

“I saw a really interesting example of how whanau gather and support each other and it was centered around a little girl killed in the Wairarapa, and that whanau gathered and supported and hid from the police….So if we are going to talk about whanau let’s talk about all of them.”

He was talking about the Lillybing case.

But Turia's position was firm;

The Associate Minister of Social Services told a national hui on child abuse in Christchurch on Saturday that at-risk Maori children should never be allowed into "stranger care."

Turia is now, of course, the associate Minister for Social Development in the National government. If she hasn't changed her mind the two ministers are going to be at odds.

Friday, November 13, 2009

No enlightenment here

Until I read this Economist article I hadn't appreciated how far behind the rest of the world NZ is falling in respect of our drug laws. Apparently;

* seven European countries have decriminalised drug possession

* Mexico has decriminalised the personal possession of small amounts of any drug from cannabis to crack

* 13 American states let people smoke marijuana for medical reasons

* New Mexico, Rhode Island and Massachusetts license non-profit corporations to grow medical marijuana

* California and Massachusetts are holding committee hearings on bills to legalise pot outright

* Oregon is expected to introduce such a bill within the next couple of weeks

* Personal possession of any drug — even the hardest — is not a crime in Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Czech Republic or the Baltic states

* Some German states and Swiss cantons take the same line

* In August, Argentina’s supreme court said it was unconstitutional to prosecute people for drug possession. The following month, Colombia’s supreme court issued a similar ruling. Now, Brazil and Ecuador are said to be mulling decriminalisation.

I think some of these claims may need some qualification but increasingly NZ is looking positively unenlightened.

A misunderstanding and an explanation

David Farrar took issue with yesterday's post asking why John Key wasn't under fire for high youth unemployment the way Gordon Brown is.

Lindsay - you're not stupid so you know the answer to this.

Gordon Brown is under fire because he has been the Chancellor and then Prime Minister of the UK for the last 12 years.

John Key has been Prime Minister for less than 12 months and no one outside you and Trevor Mallard seem to think he is responsible for the high level of youth unemployment.

David, Where did I say Key was responsible for the high youth unemployment? That is you reading something that isn't there. My question was about why NZ Labour isn't launching the kind of parliamentary attacks that the UK Conservatives are. That is where the headlines come from and headlines are the lifeblood of political parties. Brown may have been in power for years and made claims he hasn't delivered on but is he personally responsible for the current recession? I don't think so. But the Conservatives make out like he is. Is Key responsible for the current recession? Of course not. But there is nothing to stop Labour attacking him for steeply rising unemployment during the year he has been PM.

So either they have decided to be honest (unusual in politics), avoid putting the spotlight on their own performance in government, or simply haven't got the belly for it. You see I take an interest in welfare and employment. I watch Annette King and the questions she puts up in order to figure out how they are going to re-invent themselves policy-wise. That, as well as the subject of my post, I do not know the answer to.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interesting contrast

Gordon Brown is under the gun for youth unemployment which has reached 19.8 percent in the UK.

David Cameron today accused Gordon Brown of failing Britain's youth after figures were released showing one in five young people is now out of work.

The pair clashed at Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons with youth unemployment now at an unprecedented level.

Among those aged 16 to 24 the number looking for work, has reached almost 19.8 per cent — almost one million — for the first time.

I wonder why we don't get similar headlines about Key being under fire because 16.8 percent of NZ 15-24 year-olds are unemployed? That's one in six.

Shifting blame - getting it right and getting it wrong

Two examples that have caught my attention today.

1/ The Australian High Court ruled;

"Balancing the pleasures of drinking with the importance of minimising the harm that may flow to a drinker is also a matter of personal decision and individual responsibility.

"It is a matter more fairly to be placed on the drinker than the seller of drink."
Succinct and spot on. Hallelujah.

2/ Last night I watched Tariana Turia subtlety shift the focus of wrong-doing from Hone Harawira to the public response. Caught in print, but not as telling as her demeanour on screen,

While Mr Harawira's behaviour was "unacceptable", she had been flooded with emails which were "equally racist and abusive".

Sorry for the platitude but two wrongs do not make a right. Perhaps the Maori Party should however let the public be the judge of whether the e-mails are racist. The paper I wrote on Maori and Welfare was described as racist for instance. It was never explained to me why. I can only conclude that it is OK for Maori to talk about themselves as a group, and describe particular problems that disproportionately affect them as a group, but it is not OK for me to do it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Literal "nannies"

Under Oranga Whanau, groups of three kuia will visit pregnant Maori women to identify welfare issues.

Speaking yesterday at a violence and abuse research symposium, Dr Sharples said the $1 million programme would roll out in Auckland, Northland, Rotorua and Hutt Valley.

Under the scheme, the three "nannies" will work in a team visiting mothers in their regions. Dr Sharples said it followed a smaller trial that iwi in Ngati Kahungunu undertook this year.

The "nanny principle" puts into practice the cultural way older people relate to younger people in the same non-threatening way that Maori wardens work. "It works really well. One puts the kettle on, one natters about the whakapapa, the other one cuts the cake," the minister said.

"It is a catch-all - it's an opportunity to help people before issues become issues."

I am involved in something a little similar as a volunteer but work on my own and tend to roll up the sleeves instead of nattering. The real nattering comes during the work and after the trust is gained. But I have to say that progress is often quite limited because other issues crowd it out. You cannot be in people's houses and lives 24/7. There are always other influences, often harmful, pulling in another direction.

To me a team of 3 uses up too many resources in one place. Visiting every week would be more effective than visiting every 3 weeks. Getting to know someone well is the key.

Dr Sharples said the programme had parallels with his own experience working with Maori families reaching back to the 1970s, where he dealt with those struggling with alcoholism, unemployment, domestic abuse and other issues.

And isn't that the crunch? We are still on the same treadmill except it is going faster and we are running out of breath. This kind of approach will help a few problem families. But in the main the welfare system ensures that many more are presented than can be helped. Or who want to be helped.

Spending more than we are making

Bill English talked to the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce yesterday and what he said is worth repeating;

He told chamber members that there were two parts to the New Zealand economy – the tradeable portion via exports and tourism, and the non-tradeables comprising the likes of health and social services, and housing.

"In recent times these two have got right out of kilter," he said.

"The income part of the economy has shrunk 10 per cent over the past five years, and in fact our export sector hasn't created a single additional job over the past 10 years. But the consumer part of our economy has grown by 15 per cent in the last five years.

"There's the problem. Try running your organisation when your spending is growing at twice the rate of your revenue."

Mr English stressed the importance of Taranaki's export sector; that it is vital to the success of NZ.

But so is cutting spending, or at the very least capping spending. I hope someone pointed that out to him.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The problem for the Maori Party

The Maori Party make a lot out of style. They adhere to concepts or manaakitanga which are enshrined in their constitution.

Manaakitanga is behaviour that acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own, through the expression of aroha, hospitality, generosity and mutual respect. In doing so, all parties are elevated and our status is enhanced, building unity through humility and the act of giving. The Party must endeavour to express manaakitanga towards others, be they political allies or opponents, Māori and non-Māori organisations, taking care not to trample mana, while clearly defining our own.

Yesterday while Hone Harawira was hanging tough, and Dover Samuels was reinforcing what Hone said as what Hone believes, Pita Sharples was elsewhere saying this;

Abuse whether it be physical, psychological, sexual, emotional is an attack against the person, and in doing so, an attack against their whakapapa, their whanau, their identity.

And we must see all violence within that definition – including abusive and offensive remarks; derogatory language; intimidating behaviour. Whether it is in a gang war; a newspaper column; or across the airwaves, abuse of any sort brings shame to us all.

Yet even Pita says forcing an apology out of Hone is not the right thing to do. That's understandable. It would be worthless.

In these days of reduced standards and the unremarkable, regular use of bad language Hone's remarks have been somewhat cushioned. But when I turn them over in my mind again, they are very, very offensive.

Hone is blatantly contravening the constitution of the party that got him into parliament. But more importantly he is undermining the bridge-building that Pita Sharples works so very hard at. He is making a mockery of the philosophy that many thought was important enough to record as central to how members conduct themselves.

The problem is you cannot change what is in someone's psyche. It is now clear what is in Hone's and if the Maori Party keeps him it is will be perceived as political expediency trumping their core values, or a quiet condoning of what was said.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The feminist burden

Here is a very jaundiced view of men and marriage. It asks me some questions so best I answer them;

You are a traitor to the female gender and it gets you some nice misogynist fans and might even pay quite well. Most women who disagree with your points of view do not even speak because of the consequences like loss of career mariage leading to impoverishment etc. Only women who promote vicous victimisation of their own gender are comfortable enough to speak out. They have some ardent male fans.
Just incase you are unaware Lindsay if children are left alone a woman can be jailed for neglect. How do you suggest single mothers pay the childcare fees to avoid this problem. The fathers of their children are not asked to contribute yet often sit on the sidelines and slag off the mothers of their own children who are required by law to provide 24 hour care.
Yes it might be a sensisble idea financially for women to marry before they have children but I think you will find most single parents have been married and are divorced.
According to a Herald poll more than 40% of men have been unfaithfull to their wives and about 16% of married women have cheated. They failed to mention though that wives infideity is usually a revenge affair after discovering a husbands affair.
We get this constant bullshit that men are just different and women are forgiving but the truth is the consequences for a mother having an affair are the end of her marriage and life long impoverishment unless she gets another ( cheating bastard ) husband. Wronged women bury their
anger to keep a roof over theirs and their childrens heads but they shouldnt have to.
Do you think women should put up with infidelity Lindsay please tell me.
You talk about their being less poverty when mothers get off welfare but what are their lives like? Studies in the US show the average mother does about 50 hours housework per week. If you combine this with working say a minimum of 40 hours thats 90 hours per week and many mothers work sixty hours plus for pittance wages. Their children are often left alone. So what should women in the US and NZ do when their partners visit prostitutes, strip clubs, bash them etc Lindsay. The cause of female poverty is often abuse by husbands. If your husband cheats or beats you either put up with it or you pay for the rest of your life.
What sort of quality of life do mothers have working 24/7. They might have a little more moeny but most compalain of complete physical exhaustion. They have no quality of life as is the same for many married mothers doing the same thing. Marriage is not something I would even think about. Its just slavery for many women Lindsay.
I know many mothers who come home from work and start doing the housework while their husband minds the kids. They work untill midnight and dont even get time with their own children. The husband and children have a slave cleaner. Women putting up with this is nothing to do with childrens welfare if all they actually do is work cook and clean.
We are constantly lectured by capitalists that women should sacrifice for children.
Well if they live miserable impoverished overworked lives then their daughters will too. The only benefactors are men.

First, my welfare reform advocacy is unpaid. I have only ever once been paid for my writing. I pay to promote my ideas. I suppose I could even buy into the nonsense of foregone earnings because of spending so much time on welfare research and writing. But I won't because that's my choice.

I have no obligation to the female gender by virtue of being one. Such a blind loyalty would demand a far greater 'sacrifice' than any other the writer rails against. A sacrifice of honesty because all women are not all right all of the time.

Many of the people who read this blog, like myself, have happy and enduring relationships. Believing there are problems with welfare, and the DPB, does not make one a misogynist. To the contrary. It usually accompanies a belief that men and women should rely more on each other, do more for each other, instead of depending so heavily on government assistance.

I wouldn't rely on a Herald poll as an accurate representation of how much infidelity can be accorded to either sex. But no, it shouldn't be tolerated if it hurts one partner very deeply. If a short period of assistance was required to exit a relationship I can live with that. But for how long does the 'help' go on before it becomes a destructive crutch or a weapon to use against the ex? And how many men walk away for the primary reason that the state will fill their shoes?

Poverty levels for single mothers in the US have been (recently) fairly steady but are still lower than before the reforms. Obviously many ex beneficiaries will be in low paying jobs but working for a living has many other upsides beyond income levels. In particular, the children form an expectation that working for a living is expected.

Most people on the DPB have not been married.

Childcare is quite heavily subsidised. The subsidies increased under Labour. The tax credit system was designed so that a single mother would always be better off working. There is a shortage of childcare which is ironically, in part, a result of the female workforce being reduced by over-reliance on benefits.

If women are doing housework until midnight every night they have some sort of obsession. The whole idea that women are slaves to children and men is pathetic. I suspect the writer is clinically depressed and projects her experience on the rest of her gender because misery loves company. In fact, if she really believes this stuff she is better off alone.

Arriving at the right idea the wrong way

This excerpt is from a Times columnist who has, triggered by the ongoing saga of British MPs and their expenses, arrived at the idea that far fewer are needed. If that happens here, great. Unfortunately one of our main offenders is one of the MPs we do need. At least he has apologised and, for what it's worth, I think it was sincere.

Another political female who is comically out of touch on such matters is Helen Goodman, the work and pensions minister. Kelly has recommended that MPs should no longer be allowed to charge for cleaners or gardeners on their expenses. In response to this, Goodman solemnly announced last week that women would be put off standing for parliament unless they could have cleaning ladies on expenses. What’s more, she is accusing Kelly and his reforms of sexism, because it is women who usually do the family cleaning.

The best of the joke is that she earns more than £96,000 a year as a politician at Westminster. I wonder why it hasn’t occurred to her to do as the rest of us do and either clean up ourselves or pay for a cleaner out of our own taxed income. Out of £96,000 one might have thought that should be feasible.

How on earth does this minister for work imagine other working women manage? Perhaps she somehow doesn’t understand that there are millions of women and men out there who are sorting out their domestic cleaning without handouts from the taxpayer and also managing to confront domestic sexism, should they encounter it, without governmental support. A woman who can’t make her husband help with the housework, one way or another, or handle it on her own is hardly likely to have the political skills one might expect even of the humblest backbencher. Yet this is the calibre of minister that the present system does and must raise up.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

If social security had been contained how much better off would we be?

Most of today's benefits were created at the point of passing the Social Security Act 1938 or after. During the post-war years benefit levels were reasonably stable despite population growth. For instance between 1940 and 1975 the population grew by 92 percent but receipt of Unemployment, Sickness and Invalid benefits grew by only 9 percent. As a percentage of working age people, reliance on these benefits actually dropped.

Compare this to the next almost 35 year period - 1975 to 2009 - and the picture is vastly different. Reliance on the same three benefits grew by 903 percent or 9 times. The population grew by a mere 37 percent over the same period.

What if benefit dependence had stayed at 1975 levels?

Using some rough estimates based purely on total population growth it would look something like this;

Unemployment benefit 3,964
Sickness benefit 10,727
Invalid's benefit 12,897

Add in the DPB created in 1973;

DPB 23,606

That's a total of 51,194.

But the actual total today is 309,717. The difference in terms of expenditure is $5.17 billion.

How much tax per earner (2.154 million)?


Unlike purist libertarians I do not advocate wholesale destruction of the welfare state although I understand why they do. It is a too unrealistic proposition to advance the cause of welfare reform.

But a return to respect for benefits and taxpayers, an avoidance of moral hazard through education, and levels of reliance that reflect genuine incapacity or emergency, would see us all much, much better off.

(And yes, I do realise this is a very simplistic calculation and there are umpteen factors and objections that could be made, both statistical and philosophical.)