...being the online presence of Steve McCabe himself
What Steve said...
...being a potpourri of musings, ideas, opinions and conjecture.
Erica Stanford told Kim Hill on RNZ this morning that “traditionally we have lower wages.”
Traditionally, then, Kiwis are being exploited. The idea that New Zealand is a “low-wage economy” has been doing the rounds for so long that it’s just accepted now, it’s just understood as an inevitable part of life in Aotearoa. But it really, really shouldn’t.
New Zealand is not an inevitably poor country. Our GDP is the 51st largest in the world, but with our small population, we have the 22nd highest per-capita GDP. That puts us behind Australia, yes, but on a par with the UK, not far behind Finland, a country we’re frequently compared to, and significantly ahead of Italy, or Taiwan, or Japan. The wealth is there. But it’s not everywhere, not in New Zealand.
The problem, of course, is that wealth has a gravitational attraction to itself. The wealthy will always get wealthy, as their money attracts more money. Christopher Luxon, who wants to reduce income tax for the higher-paid, trousered a rather generous $4.4 million in his last year as CEO of Air New Zealand. That’s not a low wage; it’s also a couple of hundred thousand more than he was making the previous year. And his successor, Greg Foran, left a job with Walmart that flung twenty million dollars a year at him, and I feel it’s safe to assume he’ll not be taking too massive a pay cut to come and run an airline. Again, not the lowest of low wages. My boss, Peter Winder, the CE of Te Pūkenga, must be feeling quite hideously cash-strapped in comparison, but his $600K or more a year, while poverty-level compared to other chief executives across Aotearoa, is, again, not quite what I’d consider “low wages.”
“Low wages” is what folk on minimum wage get—$21.20 an hour. And that’s if you’re an adult—the “starting out” rate is four dollars less. And it’s significantly less than the living wage for New Zealand—$22.10. That’s a low wage. That’s the minimum folk can live on, can survive on. Nobody gets rich on that kind of money.
So yes, we have a low-wage economy. And it’s kept that way by design. As long as we cling to the nonsense that you have to pay in the millions to attract “the best,” whatever that might mean, we see the money gravitating to the top. We need to get rid of this obnoxious concept. We’re being asked to accept that if Air New Zealand didn’t pay in the several millions, they would not find a competent chief executive, and this is offensive when professionals in most public-sector industries are told that they get whatever the employer reckons it can find for them, and if they don’t like it, they can leave (and, in my experience, many folk are starting to, by the way…).
And it’s not just wages that are low. Prices are rising, and in some cases for the wrong reasons. Let’s go back to Air New Zealand, because they’re emblematic of what’s wrong. There was a time, not long ago, when we owned Air NZ. We did—Kiwis, New Zealanders, ordinary people. Since 2001, it was a nationalised company. And it was making decent money, with profits in the hundreds of millions a year. But in 2013, as part of the National Party’s selling of the family silver, the government sold much of its holding for the equivalent of a couple of years’ profit—short-term gain for long-term loss. And now what used to be a government asset and a public service is now just another corporation driven by generating maximum profit for those fortunate enough to be able to afford shares in it. It has an effective duopoly with JetStar, and exploits this to charge quite extraordinary fares for its major routes. These fares don’t simply reflect operational costs; they are driven by demand which is inevitable in a long, narrow country with no viable rail links between major centres. Once again, the money leaves the pockets of the low-waged and gravitates to the rich. I guess that’s what Greg Foran is getting his millions for. But what should be a public service—for many, air travel is public transport, at least for inter-city travel—is just another way to get money from the less well-off. Operational costs alone don’t justify return fares nudging a thousand dollars; only the need to extract every last drop of profit can account for that. And when we live in a low-wage economy, that just means the wages are effectively even lower.
Air New Zealand isn’t the only offender here. The electricity market similarly keeps people’s effective wages low—Meridian, Genesis and Mercury are each 49% private-owned, again inserting a profit-extracting layer to ensure that money moves from consumers to shareholders who have done literally nothing to earn that money. What’s particularly galling here is that the large majority of the electricity generated in New Zealand is, effectively, free—it comes from sustainable sources like hydro-electric or geothermal generation. Yes, maintenance is required in order to keep plant running smoothly, but no fuel is required to keep the winds blowing, the rivers running, the magma heating up the water under Te-Ika-a-Māui. And yet we pay perhaps double per kilowatt-hour compared to where I used to live, in Florida, and comparable prices to consumers in Japan.
The same is true across other sectors, supermarkets among the worst offenders. The Commerce Commission reckons Countdown and Foodstuffs, another effective duopoly, are making around $430 million in excess profits each year. It’s bad enough that we’re a low-wage economy; what really hurts is that what little we do make is being squeezed further and further, just so that our wages can gravitate back to where, apparently, it needs to be—in the pockets of the already very wealthy.
I don’t know how we change this short of a revolution, but a good start would be to stop accepting “we’re a low-wage economy” just with a shrug of the shoulders and a feeling that this is just the way the universe is. No, it’s not. It’s this way through design and through many years of government ensuring that profit has to be extracted and siphoned off to those wealthy enough to have a healthy share portfolio. Yes, your wages are low. Yes, somebody else is keeping them low. Don’t forget that.
So I had a very disappointing experience at my local Countdown the other day. I got to the checkout to pay for my carefully-selected, budget-conscious, healthy groceries, and the cashier wouldn’t accept my payment.
Problem was that the contribution my employer has offered me to deal with this cost of living crisis is its gratitude. And it turns out that your employer’s gratitude doesn’t pay the actual bills.
But that’s all my tertiary-education colleagues have left to pay for life’s little luxuries with – you know, things like food, and the rent, and petrol, and the electricity bill.
And that’s all we have left because our pay has not quite kept up, while the prices of all these things climb and climb, like a beanstalk with all the gold at the top, where it stays with the giants who own the banks, supermarkets, rental properties, oil companies and power companies.
When the cost of living has gone up by about 8% in the last year, but your employer offers you a 3% pay rise, that’s effectively a pay cut. And our tertiary employers know this. That why they make sure their pay goes up decently.
We have heard recently about the context for these numbers, and how universities’ vice-chancellors have received some quite eye-watering salary boosts.
They did dropinto the mid-six-figure range in 2021, many of them, acknowledging that pay restraint was appropriate at that time.
Those salaries are mostly back to where they used to be, and then some; apparently pay restraint for vice chancellors is no longer appropriate, but an absolute necessity for their staff.
And the picture is no less ugly elsewhere in the tertiary sector.
AUT have recently announced plans to slash 170 full-time academic jobs, while their vice chancellor, Damon Salesa, trousers even more than Massey’s Jan Thomas, who famously saw her salary shoot up 18% this year.
At my employer, Te Pūkenga, the new national super-polytechnic, my boss, Peter Winder, has recently told me and my colleagues that he needs to find $35m in savings – quite possibly including cuts to programmes that aren’t generating enough revenue.
Winder makes around $600,000 a year. If he’s looking for cuts, I can think of a really good way to save half a million right there.
Now, we’re told that VCs and CEs have to get paid salaries best expressed as fractions of a million, while their staff in turn get paid fractions of that, because that’s the only way to attract the very best.
But if the best you can come up with is cutting programmes, or firing about 8% of your lecturers, then, seriously, what the hell are you doing raking in over half a million dollars a year? For that kind of money, you really need to have some more creative solutions.
Of course, the problem isn’t really that polytechnics and universities need to cut staff, or programmes, or even VC salaries (although on fundamental principles they absolutely should be cut, and substantially; there is absolutely no justification for paying Dawn Freshwater of Auckland University over three quarters of a million dollars a year).
The problem is not that too much money is going out; the problem is that nowhere near enough money is going in.
At least, it’s not going in where it’s most needed – at the front lines, keeping courses and programmes open, ensuring that the salaries of academics and support staff, the footsoldiers who do the real heavy lifting at the various unis and polys across the motu, keep up with the cost of living.
Instead, we’re seeing yet another layer of administration being slotted in to Te Pūkenga, this time at the regional level, with quarter-million-dollar salaries for the successful applicants.
Te Hautū Kahurangi, the Tertiary Education Union, supports the substantial change that Te Pūkenga was meant to bring – a collaborative, rather than a competitive, approach to vocational education.
But the “improved” funding system the Reform of Vocational Education (Rove) promised us back in 2019, in the Before Times, appears to be slipping back to the “managerialism” that has been creeping into the universities of Aotearoa for some time now and Rove was meant to move away from.
Despite the education minister saying that “an investment in tertiary education pays back to the government more than it costs many, many times over”; and despite a Labour government with an unprecedented majority and the once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something truly revolutionary, to implement meaningful change; tertiary education is woefully underfunded.
Investment in tertiary education is not just spending, a necessary evil that needs to be covered as cheaply as possible. It’s an investment in the future of the country.
It’s absolutely needed to pay to train the nurses who have kept this country going through the long, long years of the pandemic. It’s vital if we want to keep training more plumbers, and electricians, and builders, to construct the houses that we urgently need.
Our employers know this, our employers whose salaries have stayed quite buoyant, while we lecturers and professors and tutors and academic, the ones who do the actual core business of our institutions, along with the professional staff without whom we would not be able to do our jobs, see our pay go backward.
Our employers, our generously-compensated VCs and chief executives, know that we are the ones who kept the doors open, kept the teaching going, through the Covid years, all the while trying to keep ourselves as sane as possible through the greatest existential crisis most of us have ever experienced.
They know this; we know they know because of all the lovely emails they have routinely sent out telling us how much they value our mahi, how much they understand how hard we’ve worked, how important we are.
But that gratitude and that appreciation won’t pay the bills. A fair pay settlement will.
This article first appeared in Stuff.
ACT’s recently-released truancy policy is, even by the spectacularly dismal standards of most of David Seymour’s thought-dumps, quite inspirationally ridiculous. Nobody is denying that education is quite vitally important. But nobody who actually works in education would agree that ACT’s ideas for addressing attendance concerns would do anything to actually improve the these concerns.
Seymour would like to impose infringement notices for parents whose children don’t attend school on quite the terms he would approve of. The policy ACT have published doesn’t include a number, so we’ll have to assume they’ll be comparable to the amounts that police can levy for speeding fines, which is what the policy likens these penalties to. And let’s not forget—a fine is only a punishment if you can’t afford it. For the wealthy, a fine is just another expense. Booking the family’s annual trip to Hawaii? Just add truancy fines as an other line in the budget, between the nasty flowered shirts and the business-class air fares. But for the parents of decile-1 schools that this policy purports to address, even the $30 which is the lowest current speeding fine is a substantial financial blow, one that quite possibly won’t get paid, which then serves only to lead the family further into the criminal-justice maze from which it becomes harder and harder to escape.
So let’s not criminalise a problem needlessly, especially not before we’ve made an honest and fair attempt to understand it first. Seymour’s reactionary policy wants children found out of school returned to school by roving teams of truancy police. But has Seymour ever stopped to ask why those children might be out of school?
I doubt it, but I have. I had to. I taught in a decile-1 south Auckland high school for eight years, and every day I was expected by my management to phone parents and find out why children in my classes had been absent that day. But it often wasn’t parents who were raising, or caring for, these children. It was often grandparents, or aunties, or big sisters—not, incidentally, the parents who Christopher Luxon says “had the kid, it’s your responsibility to make sure they have the education you never had.”
And there were reasons—reasons that clearly don’t occur to David Seymour—why children weren’t in school. A child whose uniform was ripped, the family couldn’t afford a new one, and the child would be put in detention for being out of uniform. A child who was unwell, but didn’t have a sick note because the family couldn’t afford a visit to the GP. A child who missed the first lesson of the morning because she was dropping her little brothers off at primary school. A child who couldn’t get to school because it was pouring with rain and the family had no petrol for the car. There are myriad reasons, mainly revolving round the fact that the families of decile-1 schools live, by definition, in poverty that the Member for Epsom has no comprehension of. And as a result, those schools, and their students and families, have problems that require massively more nuanced thinking than David Seymour has shown himself capable of to date.
He fails, for example, to take into account, the children who simply don’t need to be in school right now. Please believe me when I tell you that many children are simply not in an emotional or psychological place, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months at a time, to be in a classroom. You’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that for a small, but very significant, number of children, the classroom is the wrong place to be, and time away from school is better for them, better for their classmates and their learning, and better for the health and safety of everyone who has to share a classroom with them.
Seymour does offer some financial support to schools, to be used to hire truancy officers who can whip children into school. He clearly doesn’t realise that this would duplicate the mahi of the attendance officers many schools already hire. And he clearly doesn’t realise that the money he wants to spend there might well be better spent on making low-decile schools a more attractive place for students to be. As a teacher, I hated coming to a school with roofs that leaked after a light rain, a heating system that failed annually and left me teaching in a classroom that registered only eight degrees Celsius, corridors so mouldy they were making students and teachers sick.
Make schools attractive. Invest the money in building—not renovating, but building from scratch—schools that kids can feel welcome and wanted in.
And try—go on, David, just try it—to pivot from the punitive and the criminalising to actually understanding the problem. It’s less viscerally satisfying, and it might not get the voters of Remuera frothing with righteous indignation at those wagging guttersnipes and their feckless parents. But it might just actually start to solve the problem.
Since 1996, over the course of seven general elections, New Zealand and its politicians have seen that the country’s MMP electoral system inevitably leads to coalitions, partnerships, confidence-and-supply agreements — almost any possible combination of parties and ways of cobbling together a government other than through a simple majority of seats in Parliament. Every election so far under the current system has been followed by horse-trading between the major parties and a clutch of smaller ones who understand that influence, with a relative absence of responsibility, can be almost as valuable as actual power.
So how could New Zealand, and its political leaders, have been so surprised at the end of September 23rd this year, when, after an election campaign that was, admittedly, a little unusual, with neither major-party leader having been been in place at the start of the year, it became clear that neither Labour nor incumbents National would have enough seats, yet again, to form a government without some kind of support from a lesser party?
It’s hard to imagine any of Jacinda Ardern, Bill English or Winston Peters waking up on the morning of Sunday 24th and thinking “Well, whaddaya know — a hung parliament. I really didn’t see that coming.” It’s hard to imagine that James Shaw saw the results of the election and wondered why he wasn’t the new prime minister.
But, a fortnight on from the election, we’re still waiting for Winston Peters to, it would appear, lick his finger, stick it in the wind, and decide where to bestow his favour. It beggars belief that he and his advisors didn’t rehearse every possible scenario, every possible outcome. There can’t possibly have been that many possibilities — either Labour or National, with the latter the favourite, would be the dominant party in Parliament, and the only question really must have been just how much momentum Ardern had managed to generate, how much she could narrow the gap between Labour and National. But surely nobody, realistically, imagined that any party would have an outright majority, if only for the very simple reason that in the previous seven elections, in the previous two decades, no party had ever managed this under MMP.
It’s similarly unlikely that Ardern’s and English’s advisors also were taken by surprise. They might be lack experience as party leaders, but they’re both astute politicians with party leaderships, advisory panels, gurus, mentors behind them – they would both have been acutely aware that there was little to no chance of either of them walking off with the title of prime minister immediately after this election. So, again, it is hard to believe that either party had failed to sketch out plans for every possible permutation ahead of the election.
So why are we waiting, currently almost three weeks, to find out who will lead New Zealand’s next government? The answer has to be Winston Peters. He has, at this stage, little, indeed no, real chance of becoming New Zealand’s first Māori prime minister, an accomplishment that would have been quite remarkable but which will now never be his. It’s his last chance to be significant, in all likelihood, his last hurrah, his last chance to pretend that the baubles of office mean nothing to him, his last chance for a bespoke cabinet post, his last opportunity to wield if not power then influence.
NZ First were supposed to announce their decision on which major party to side with, and in what way, today. And Peters has today said that his self-imposed deadline has slipped now to Saturday, three weeks after the election. It’ll be hard for Peters finally to declare for either the National Party or for a Labour-Green coalition — once he’s played his hand, the media will turn their attention to the prime minister, whichever party’s leader might assume that office, and away from Winston, who’ll no longer be the kingmaker, and will have to start to find ways to make sure he’s more than just a pawn.
The delay, then, isn’t about policies. Yes, there’s a lot to thrash out; no, it can’t be rushed. But the pretence that Peters, and to a lesser degree Ardern and English, are maintaining, that there were no preconceived ideas of how negotiations should take place before the electoral dust settled, is absurd. Peters knows exactly what he wants, and that’s to be on centre stage. Once he’s declared, he’l have, inevitably, to step back, to let go of control. Right now he’s the only person that matters in New Zealand’s political media, and it’s clear that he’s relishing the prominent. As soon as he anoints the next prime minister, though, it’ll all be over, and what Peters and his party, who at this stage might better be called Winston Peters First, are most concerned about is how long they can prolong their moment in the sun — because when it’s over, it’s all over for Peters, and that will be very, very hard for him to bear.
America’s Declaration Of Independence has, it would appear, a fair bit of small print that tends to be glossed over. Just as Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” line has an invisible asterisk next to it leading to a footnote saying “except for my slaves,” there is, also, it appears, another asterisk by Jefferson’s assertion that life is foremost among the liberties self-evidently bestowed on all men by their creator, with the accompanying footnote “Second Amendment notwithstanding.” Which is odd, because the Bill Of Rights wasn’t written for another thirteen years.
But it’s increasingly clear that no American can assume that a right to life is fundamental, that instead the right to keep and bear arms will always trump that right. And it’s increasingly clear that Americans are quite fine with this. Another several dozen dead at the hands of a murderous, and absurdly well-armed, wanker are proof that Americans really do seem to think that owning guns is a more fundamental and important right than being able to stay safely alive.
Almost as the echoes of gunfire are still sounding in Las Vegas, the procession of “thoughts and prayers” tweets and messages started, as it always does. Thoughts and prayers are with [insert latest city to be victim of a mass shooting], we read, thoughts and bloody prayers, as though magical thinking will make it all better.
It won’t. But it’s easy to tweet “thoughts and prayers,” that vapid, platitudinous, virtue-signalling empty meaninglessness that makes the tweeter feel so much better without having to address the problem at hand. The problem, for the record, is that so far this year — this year, that’s barely three-quarters over — there have been over 260 (It’s entirely possible that I lost count; the numbers are staggering in their obscenity) deaths in mass shootings in America. That’s deaths; injuries are an order of magnitude greater in number. And this number doesn’t include the sixty or so dead in the worst shooting in years in the United States, the one that took place in Las Vegas recently.
No other developed country has shootings, and shooting deaths, at this rate — no other developed country even comes close. No other developed country can even begin to imagine this rate of gun violence; not other developed country can comprehend why Americans are willing to tolerate it.
And yet tolerate it they do. The problem is talked past — it’s terrorism if a brown man (and yes, it’s always a man) does it; it’s a mental-health problem if the shooter is white, or it’s “pure evil,” as the “president” profoundly and insightfully explained, but whatever it is, it’s a uniquely American problem; it is simply impossible to dismiss as coincidence the facts that you’re 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun in America than in other developed countries, and that there are 88 guns per 100 people in the country (by far the highest rate in the entire world; the second highest is Yemen, with less than 55 per 100).
America is full of guns. America has absurdly laissez-faire gun laws. Americans die from shootings at a rate that beggars belief for an allegedly developed country. And every time another gun atrocity happens, every time another murderer decides that he wants to be a particularly efficient murderer, out come the readily-available guns. And then the platitudes follow, the thoughts and prayers, the utter lack of any meaningful action.
Some politicians talk a good game. Eric Swalwell, a California Republican member of the House of Representatives, wrote a moving “Thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough” opinion piece in the Guardian this week, but for all his calls for action in Congress, he appears never to have proposed legislation that would do anything more than simple thoughts and prayers.
But of course he hasn’t. He’d be out of his 15th District seat in no time, because Americans would, ideally, prefer that there weren’t any gun deaths, but they’re not willing to, you know, prevent them, because that would be hard. Like a morbidly obese man who knows he needs to lose a monstrous amount of weight before his poor little heart just finally explodes from the exertion of keeping him alive, but just has to have another pie before breakfast, America knows that giving up guns would stop gun deaths, but it won’t, because it really, really, really wants its guns.
And so gun deaths are “the price of freedom,” said baboon’s scrotum filled with pus and put in a suit Bill O’Reilly on his website (no, I bloody well won’t link directly to it). 59 people dead is “the big downside of American freedom.” Seriously, that’s his exact, hateful, loathsome words. He insists that “The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection;” as we’ve seen, then, the Second Amendment trumps everything, including rights self-evidently granted by God. I want O’Reilly to show up to every single funeral that results from the Las Vegas shooting. I want this foghorn of hatred and imbecility to say to the families of each of the victims, as the bodies are being lowered into the ground, “Sorry for your loss and all, but, you know, price of freedom and all that.” I want him to explain that those people — the mourners’ children, brothers, sisters, parents, friends — had to die so that Bill, bless him, could keep his gun. I want him to explain to them that his right to keep and bear arms was more important than those 59 people’s right to life.
And I want every American to write to their Congressmen and women, and demand that the law be changed. If you want a quick guide to what could — should — be done, then just click here; I’ll wait. And be ready to give up your guns. Because if you’re not, then you’re admitting that your gun is more important than my life. Af you insist that “if you make criminalise guns, then only criminals will have guns,” then your tautological little argument could hardly be weaker if you insisted that he who smelt it dealt it.
So lower all the flags you want. Send all the thoughts and prayers you want. But, America and Americans, until you start actually doing something meaningful, something sweeping, something uncomfortable, until you actually give up your guns, this will, I guarantee, continue to happen, and the civilised world will have less and less sympathy for a country that clearly, evidently, demonstrably values guns more than it values its own citizens.
I didn’t think I’d find myself saying this, but Francis, by far the most outstanding pope the Catholic Church has elected in, well, quite frankly centuries, if not ever, has managed to disappoint me quite badly.
No women priests, he has announced — never. His logic, such as it is, seems to hinge on two key points. The first, one we can dismiss reasonably readily, appears to be that his predecessor-but-one said so, and if John Paul II said no to priestesses, then the case is closed, Francis appears to be saying. But this is shaky ground — John Paul II, recently canonised by Francis, did indeed say that there was no room in the Church for women priests. He was clear in his opposition to the ordination of women: “In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time;” he even went so far as to “declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” It was women priests that so utterly challenged the Church that he had to create a whole new category of popely pronouncement, that of judgemetnts that must be “definitively held.” The ordination of women to the priesthood was clearly so harmful to the Church that, for John Paul II, decisive action had to be taken — clearly, then he saw this doctrinal matter as a massively greater threat and challenge to the integrity of the Church than, say, a nauseatingly widespread network of child-molesting priests and bishops who enabled, and quite possibly joined in withm them, a minor problem that warranted much less dramatic interventions.
So John Paul was not, then, a Pope we should always defer to on how best to protect the Church. Let’s look instead at Francis’ other key point, the simplistic notion that since Jesus only chose men to be priests, only men can be priests, the Church’s long-standing argument keeping women out of the priesthood. It’s hard to fathom how a thinker as fresh, as clear, as kind as Francis can fall into this trap — the idea that the one thing that identified the Twelve, the thing that Jesus had in mind when he chose them, was their sex. Setting aside for a second the fact that there are at least fourteen named apostles in the four canonical Gospels, which does make the idea of “The Twelve” a little questionable in itself, let’s see if they had anything else in common. Well, they were all Jewish, for a start. So does that mean that, since Jesus only chose Jews to be his apostles, only Jews can be priests? It’s hard to argue the Church’s line on priesthood being the preserve of men on the basis that Jesus only chose men, and not then insist that it also be reserved for Jews. He only chose men who lived in Galilee. He only chose a dozen — well, around a dozen. So why does the Church demand that the only characteristic that really matters is maleness? Why insist that only men can be priests, but allow more than a dozen Galilean Jews to be priests? And, given that at least one of Jesus’ choices was less than inspired, maybe we really should cast our nets a little wider when we’re looking for their successors. (Parenthetically, the Church has traditionally claimed that bishops are the successors to the Apostles; claiming that women are excluded from the priesthood on this basis is an over-extension of this already flimsy logic.)
This entrenched misogyny from an otherwise profoundly enlightened and compassionate man is disappointing. There is no good reason for excluding half of the membership of the Church from the hierarchy of the Church, for denying them one of the seven sacraments. Francis is — he should be — so much better than this.