Monday 22 December 2014

Scoring my political predictions

Earlier in the year I made a couple of political predictions just to give it a go, and now that we're at the tail end of the year it's time to do some scoring to see whether I should invest more in iPredict or just give up as a political pundit.

- National will win a third term, but barely (with the support of at least two minor parties).
True - National almost won by themselves, but they ended up taking Maori, ACT, and United Future along with them just to be safe.

- Labour will score less than 30%, with the Greens gaining ground and going past 15%.
Half-True - Labour scored 25.13% in the final count, but the Greens only scored 10.7%. I was really hopeful that the Green vote would grow, but it wasn't to be.

- ACT won't be back in Parliament in 2015. Peter Dunne will barely win his Ohariu seat again.
Half-True - Both of them got back in, and I guess I shouldn't doubt the insanity of Epsom. Peter Dunne won his seat by 710 votes.

- Colin Craig won't win his electorate seat, and the Conservatives won't get enough votes to get into Parliament.
True - If I may say so, thankfully. After analysing some of their policies, such as their tax reforms, I would be quite worried if they had any say in determining where our country goes.

- Another new minor party will capture the interest of the nation in 2014, not including Kim Doctom's party or The Civilian Party. There will be ridiculously huge support for Kim Dotcom's party, particularly among young people, even though Kim Doctom won't be standing himself (he'll just bankroll everything).
Partly True - can I call the New Zealand Independent Coalition a new minor party (that didn't really capture the interest of the nation but oh well)? Internet MANA collected 1.42% of the vote, which I wouldn't call ridiculously huge support, although 34,000 votes is still quite a lot.

- Winston Peters will continue to be alive and kicking... and New Zealand First will continue to be a thorn in the side of the government, whoever it happens to be.
True - After being earmarked by all news agencies as being a potential kingmaker, National ended up doing much better than most people expected, and Winston is doomed to harass the Speaker and be outraged at the government for another three years.

- Voter turnout will be above 75% again on the back of increased youth participation.
True - well, the voter turnout was reported at 77%, which is still kind of disappointing really. I was hoping it would be more than 80%.

- The media will keep stoking the fires of discussion about the National Party leader succession, but John Key will happily stay on for another three years.
True - the media discussed it for a little bit, throwing names around the mix but JK has said that he'd be happy to even stay on for a fourth term if the country wants him to.

- At least two more MPs will be out of Parliament before the general election.
True - I'll call Shane Jones and John Banks as the two MPs who quit.

- A rising star in the National Party will get relegated into obscurity for doing/saying something stupid while campaigning.
True - Judith Collins was a rising star right? She was being tipped for the National Party leadership and while most of the things she did were before the campaigning started, she was probably one of the people who suffered the most from the backlash of Dirty Politics.

- More cracks will appear in the Labour caucus as they are led by a guy that most of them don't support.
True - While to the public the caucus were all fully behind David Cunliffe, the election result and the subsequent leadership contest showed that even though Cunliffe may have had support from the unions and membership, at the end of the day he has to lead a team of MPs and candidates to effect action and change.

- A Green Party list reshuffle will lead to some discontent, and cause at least one current MP to be outside the top 15 (and therefore unlikely to return in 2015).
True - A reshuffle in May saw both good and bad, but unfortunately for Steffan Browning he moved from 10 to 16 and was left out of Parliament after the election.
[Edit: turns out I got this wrong because I used a list from just after the election - Steffen Browning did get in after specials were counted.]

- David Parker will not be the next Finance Minister. He's a nice guy, but no.
True - Nope. Sorry David (Parker).

- Genesis Energy will be floated and it'll be the last of the asset sales as National prays for the issue to go away before the election.
True - It was floated reasonably quietly and then no one talked about asset sales at the election.

- Paula Bennett and/or the Ministry of Social Development will be part of another major scandal in 2014.
Partly True - while it wasn't necessarily a scandal that attracted the attention of the national media like privacy infringements of the past, Bennett certainly made some aggressive and unhelpful calls this year, from saying that throwing money at those on welfare doesn't alleviate poverty to saying that we don't need to investigate historical sexual abuse to attacking beneficiaries such as Sarah Wilson for speaking out about the failures of our social welfare system. *sigh*

- Another major TPP leak will bring the issue to the forefront of the public's attention.
True - Wikileaks has continued to leak chapters of the TPP, and the sage just never seems to end. More protests occurred this year throughout the country but it never really became a heavy election topic, probably something to do with the timing of it all.

- Kim Dotcom will not be extradited to the US (in 2014).
True - While general sentiment was pro-Dotcom a few years ago, he's burnt a lot of bridges this year. Public sentiment shouldn't affect court cases, but I'd guess that a few more people would be happier to see him extradited now than at the beginning of the year.

- New Zealand will win a Security Council seat (yay!).
True - yay! Now we wait to see what impact we can have on the Security Council, as it continues to grapple with worsening crises around the world.

So overall I think I did pretty well, even if some of the predictions were, to be frank, a bit of a cop out given that they were kinda obvious to any political observer. 2014 has been a bit of a tumultuous year in politics, and personally I wish a lot of it hadn't happened. We could have had a nice interesting (for me) election based on policy and how the parties wanted to improve the country, but instead we got stuck in a vicious cycle of dirty politics and political scandal. The optimist hopes that it will be better in the future; the realist knows that it'll probably be more of the same.

Thursday 18 December 2014

School Deciles and Wealth

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posting recently. Between exams and my self-imposed holiday after the end of undergraduate university, I've tried to stay away from spending too much time writing for the blog. However, the Ministry of Education released new decile rankings a few weeks ago. Almost 1,500 out of 2,600-odd schools experienced changes to their decile, with funding implications in 2015. There were a couple of interesting changes, such as Carmel College, Auckland Grammar School, and Macleans College, some of the best (public) schools in Auckland, dropping from decile 10 to decile 9. This sparked a thought that I couldn't help but investigate.

School deciles are often conflated with the wealth of the area surrounding the school. It commonly presents in the form of assumptions such as "That school in [suburb x] is decile 10, therefore [suburb x] is really well off." This assumption isn't necessarily unfounded or wrong. Public schools are zoned, meaning that each school has a surrounding geographic area where the majority of students come from. Parents generally want their kids to have the best education possible, pushing up demand (and therefore prices) for property in zones with schools that are perceived to be good. The people who can afford the more expensive homes tend to have more wealth and higher incomes. Deciles for schools are based on the socio-economic status of the area surrounding the school. Therefore, high deciles = wealthier families in the area, and statements like "All the kids that go to [good school] are rich" seem reasonable.

This common chain of logic is almost correct except for when it comes to how the deciles are calculated - the Ministry of Education explains here that the process of assigning deciles is a lot more complicated than just figuring out how rich the area surrounding each school is.

Firstly, the decile isn't based on the immediate geographic area surrounding the school - schools are required to provide the MoE with a list of addresses of their students, which makes sense since we probably want the decile calculation to be based on the students who are actually attending the school, whether they are in-zone or not. Since data on individual houses cannot be provided by Statistics NZ for privacy reasons, the MoE uses the finest data granularity possible - the meshblock, which is a group of roughly 50 households.

Secondly, the socio-economic indicator used by the Ministry of Education is based on more than just household income - there are actually five factors, including the occupation of the parents, household crowding, educational qualifications of adults, and percentage of adults on government income support such as unemployment or sickness benefits. While some of these factors influence each other (leading to co-correlation), these other factors play a part in influencing school deciles.

Thirdly, the definition of deciles means that they're relative - each decile from 1 to 10 represents 10% of the schools in the country. The MoE ranks all of the schools based on the socio-economic indicator from before, and divides it into 10 groups to assign the deciles. This means that the bottom of decile 10 is not all that dissimilar to the top of decile 9. The discrete levels used in deciles subconsciously imply step changes between the deciles, but the schools actually exist on a spectrum rather that at individual steps. I should note here that the MoE does divide the deciles even further into smaller steps when determining the funding per student for each school.

What does this all mean? Well it begins to suggest that the assumption of "high decile = wealthy geographical area" may not be true. The data that is used to build the deciles is much broader than that, and the discrete nature of deciles makes them poor measures of something as continuous as wealth anyway. But how bad is this assumption? To find out, I pulled school decile data for 2014 and census data for 2013, and tried to analyse how well school decile predicts median household income of the surrounding area. A different way of stating this hypothesis would be "given the decile for a particular school, how likely is it that the area surrounding that school is rich or poor?"

I did this for three different granularities of geographic area - Territorial Local Authority or Local Board (TLA), Ward, and Census Area Unit (CAU). Each of these areas is smaller (and thus a finer granularity) than the previous one. I used a regression analysis to determine how much the income variation was explained by the decile variation.

In all three cases, the decile only explains a relatively small amount of the variation in the household median income. There certainly is a statistical relationship at each granularity, but it is weakly positive. Since there's only one variable on each axis the strength of relationship would be the same if we flipped the axes around. We can therefore also say that household median income only explains a small amount of the variation in the school deciles. The rest of the variation is explained by the other factors used by the Ministry of Education as well as some contribution from the discrete nature of deciles.

Even just a cursory look at the graphs without the statistical analysis shows that there is a lot of overlap in median household income inbetween the deciles. While outliers are to be expected, the wide spread of median household income within each decile surprised me a little, and without the statistical analysis it would be easy to conclude that the household income makeup of each decile is the same.

So what does this all mean? The upshot is that school deciles are a poor indicator of the wealth or richness of the people who live in the geographic vicinity of the school. Just because a school is decile 10 does not mean that the people living near it are rich, and just because a school is decile 1 does not mean that the people living near it are poor.

Of course, median household income itself cannot 100% accurately predict overall socio-economic status of the area, and when people say "rich" or "poor" they may not just be meaning income. Median is also probably a bad measure of the overall rich/poor-ness of an area given the potential income spread/range, but it's what Statistics NZ provided. However, this analysis gives a brief insight into just how bad some of our assumptions around school deciles are. That's all I really wanted to know - can we say with confidence that a high decile school has high income families around it? No.

Friday 19 September 2014

A Policy A Day: Wrap-up

The list of articles in this series is available here.

The General Election is tomorrow, so this series of policy analyses comes to an end. We've looked at 24 different policies spanning a variety of policy areas and political parties, and it has been quite a journey. When I started this project I knew there would be a lot of research ahead, but I feel like doing the research on all the topics has taught me more than most of my university courses. It has been an interesting experience trying to push these posts in the wake of many political scandals, and trying to keep the discussion on policy. Shouting into the wind would be an understatement, but hopefully this resource will be here and remain relevant and useful for a few years to come.

I want to thank the guest bloggers who have helped ease the workload significantly by agreeing to write guest posts. Their styles and biases vary wildly from person to person, but all of the posts have been great and I've definitely learnt some things from the posts. These are all young people who are still developing their views about the world and politics, and every one of them is engaged with decision making in our country. Thank you for not only writing guest posts, but also for continuing to fight the stereotype that youth are disengaged from society and democracy.

I asked each of our guest bloggers to answer the question "If you could tell the incoming government one thing, what would it be?"

Charlotte Austin (Compulsory Te Reo Māori):
"Worry more about the New Zealand you are leaving your grandchildren than your reputation."

Gayathiri Ganeshan (Disestablish the IPCA):
"Keep our kids fed and warm; then make sure their parents can earn a living wage that supports a family. Let tertiary students study in a conducive environment (hint: not one in which we have to work multiple jobs to afford study). Break cycles of offending by showing offenders care and decency, especially prisoners. Give primacy to honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi, protecting human rights and safeguarding the environment. In short: be better." [Editor's note: One thing Gayathiri. One thing.]

Jason Armishaw (Variable Superannuation):
"I would like to see the government reduce distortions in the housing market by introducing a universal capital gains tax."

Maanya Tandon (Food in Schools):
"If you could try and undo as much of the last 6 years as possible - that'd be great."

Thomas Vautier (Universal Basic Income):
"Ignoring the needs of the youth and lower/middle classes will come around to bite you. You should begin to focus policy that will begin to shrink the increasing wealth deficit. It will be the biggest problem you will face in the coming decade."

Rosie Polaschek (Abolish Maori Electorate Seats):
"Remember all the sectors of society and their interests, and to think about all of them in decision-making."

Gina Yukich (Cleaning Our Rivers):
"Ask young people what they want from education. Many teachers are out of touch with their students, and parents' desires for their children can differ from the childrens' desires for themselves."

Bhenjamin Goodsir (Castle Doctrine):
"I would remind them to keep in mind New Zealand’s strong history of protecting and furthering Human Rights. These rights are a fundamental part of our society and we need to do everything we can to continue this history."

Simon Johnson (Capping School Donations):
"Any new government should renew its focus on education. New Zealand should be aspiring to be the most highly educated nation in the world. A new government of any party should adopt a rigorous evidence-based approach and be bold in their thinking."

Camille Wrightson (Targeting Gangs):
"Prioritise people and the planet over profit."

Andrew Chen:
"I look overseas at many governments and just have to cringe. From government inaction to poor policy to political scandal, the government stops working for the people and everyone becomes worse off. New Zealand is a great country to live in - please try to keep it that way."

This election has been a very interesting one to say the least. It tears at my principles internally; on the one hand I want to only talk about policy and make sure that governments are elected on the basis of policy; on the other hand some of the revelations and details released about the current government, from dirty politics to GCSB spying, are unsettling and make me question the ethics of those trusted to lead our country. It makes me lose faith in the political system, and to a certain degree I think that it explains part of why youth are "apathetic" about politics. Hopefully we'll see youth participation in the election skyrocket after the many initiatives that have been put in place, but I'm less hopeful about that making a difference to our government. All I can do is hope that no matter who wins, that they try to keep the interest of all New Zealanders at heart, and that the country keeps trucking along.

If you've read all of the posts, then well done you! A lot of words have been written and I'm glad that someone's been reading them. But this series has to come to an end, so thank you once again to the guest writers and also thank you to the readers for giving us an audience.

Thursday 18 September 2014

A Policy A Day: MMP Reform

In the lead-up to the election, we are going to examine one policy per (working) day. We've selected policies to be as balanced as possible across a range of policy areas and across the political parties. The idea is to explain the background, analyse the policy to investigate the pros and cons, and give a verdict on the policy at the end. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. Also, I say 'we' because this series will feature some guest posts from other young people, to share their thoughts and ideas as well. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is by Pasan Jayasinghe.

In 2010, the National-led Government enacted the Electoral Referendum Act 2010, which provided an indicative (non-binding) referendum on New Zealand’s voting system to be held in conjunction with the 2011 general election. As the majority of voters chose to keep the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, an independent review of MMP by the Electoral Commission was triggered. The review process included a public submissions phase that considered written and in-person submissions across the country; the subsequent release of a Proposal Paper; a further submissions phase; and the publication of a final report in October 2012. Of the primary recommendations made by the report, lowering the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% and abolishing the one electorate seat threshold for allocating list seats (or the 'coat-tailing' provision) attracted the most attention, particularly across the spectrum of political parties who would all be affected by the changes in different ways. In 2013, then Minister of Justice Judith Collins announced that the National-led Government would not be implementing any of the Electoral Commission’s recommendations as no consensus on implementation was reached by the parties in Parliament. Opposition to the recommendations was expressed by parties such as ACT, United Future and MANA, whilst support was expressed by Labour and the Green Party.

What are the Party Vote and One Electorate Seat Thresholds?
Under MMP, a political party is entitled to a share of MPs that is the same as its share of the party vote if it reaches one of two thresholds: either it gets at least 5% of the nationwide party vote; or it gets at least one electorate seat.

Taking the 2008 General Election as an example, for instance:
  • The Green Party won no electorate seats but because it won 6.7% of the nationwide party vote (and therefore reached the 5% threshold) it got nine of the 122 seats in Parliament
  • The ACT Party did not clear the 5% party vote threshold (its nationwide party vote was 3.6%) but because one of its candidates won an electorate seat (that is, it reached the one-seat threshold), it was entitled to five seats overall (one electorate and four list seats)
  • The New Zealand First Party won 4.1% of the party vote but did not win an electorate seat,  because it reached neither threshold it did not receive any seats. 
Because governments under MMP are formed by political parties who can collectively command a parliamentary majority, and because no single party has ever received more than 50% of the seats in Parliament on its own under MMP, changes to the vote thresholds are hugely consequential. For minor parties, the thresholds determine their very existence. For the major parties, the thresholds determine their ability to form governments they are able to lead.

Policy Proposals
The Labour Party proposes to give effect to the Electoral Commission’s proposals by lowering the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% and abolishing the one electorate seat threshold. The Green Party also supports these provisions. The Labour Party’s proposals were first expressed in a Private Member’s Bill put forth by then leader David Shearer upon the government’s decision to shelve the recommendations.

Arguments for Lowering the Party Vote Threshold to 4% and Abolishing the One Electorate Seat Threshold
It is possible to consider the Electoral Commission’s arguments for the vote threshold proposals here, particularly as they are commonly expressed by the Labour Party in support of its proposals:

Lowering the party vote threshold is seen as a means of striking a balance between proportionality and stability. The present 5% is contested as being too high a barrier for parties to enter Parliament. On the other hand, lowering the threshold too much is claimed to result in a proliferation of minor parties which would make government formation and governance difficult.

With respect to the one electorate seat threshold, it is argued that whilst it increases the proportionality of Parliament, it does so arbitrarily and inconsistently (compared to lowering the party vote threshold). It is held to undermine the principles of fairness and equity, which underpin the primacy of the party vote, by giving voters in some electorates significantly more influence over the make-up of Parliament than voters in other electorates. It also causes excessive focus to be placed on a few electorates and distorts election campaigning.

Analysis of the Proposals to Change Vote Thresholds
Abolishing the one electorate seat threshold is a reasonable proposal. While it does in fact increase proportionality by giving parties who achieve it representation proportional to their party vote (so does not disenfranchise their voters) this proportionality is not uniformly guaranteed as it gives voters in certain electorates a greater and undue influence in choosing the ultimate make up of Parliament. This is best illustrated by the notorious ‘cup of tea deals’ made in the Epsom electorate in the past few elections, where National Party leaders Don Brash and then John Key both encouraged their supporters to vote for the ACT Party candidate with their candidate votes (Rodney Hide in 2005 and 2008, and John Banks in 2011). This allowed the ACT Party to bring in one and four extra MPs in 2005 and 2008 respectively. Comparing this against parties who fail to clear both thresholds despite receiving higher vote shares than one electorate seat threshold beneficiaries – for instance, New Zealand First in the 2008 example above – can be seen as both unjust and illogical. As a result, public opposition to the one electorate seat threshold is high, demonstrated by the high number of submissions against in in the MMP Review.

The 5% threshold is generally seen as too high a hurdle for parliamentary representation; only two parties aside from the two major parties cleared it during the last three MMP elections. However, it is unclear if the 4% threshold (by itself) gives smaller political parties a more reasonable chance of gaining seats in Parliament. There have been only three instances of parties receiving between 4% and 5% of the party vote in all MMP elections to date, proving that it might still be too high a hurdle. The unfairness here is not on the parties denied entry to Parliament, but rather on the voters denied representation. Under the current electoral roll for instance, a party requires the party votes of more than 123,000 voters to clear the 4% threshold; a substantial number. The situation appears even starker when considering new parties and the near impossibility they face in gaining representation given the institutional advantages offered to parties with existing parliamentary representation (including broadcasting allocations during election periods). Indeed, no party since 1996 has been able to break into Parliament without already having representation there.

The proliferation of very small parties is often used as an argument to not lower the threshold below 4%. The Electoral Commission supported this claim with the general principle that the lower the threshold, the greater the risk to parliamentary effectiveness and government stability. To examine this claim, we can look at the six elections under MMP so far, which provide a highly diverse sample of small parties at every possible size, from single MP parties up incrementally to multiple MP parties. These results further provide case studies of parties in various configurations of government, opposition or otherwise. Even a brief attempt at considering all this data shows that very small parties can hardly be seen as having caused undue instability either during government formation or actual governance; the major parties have always been able to produce governing arrangements with the aid of small parties (often numerous in number) without having to resort to another immediate election, and no government has lost its parliamentary majority mid-term. The case of the National-New Zealand First coalition following the 1996 election is an arguable case, as the National Party was still able to retain its parliamentary majority after New Zealand First’s exit from the coalition. And in any case, such a scenario has never repeated itself since. The fear that small parties’ excessive influence would decrease governmental durability and increase the level of instability has not eventuated. More often than not, it is the dog that wags the tail. Finally, there are many benefits to decreasing the burden to smaller parties entering Parliament, including the representation of a more diverse range of interests and views and greater democratic integrity for voters who are able to express truer political preferences.

Perhaps most pressingly, the lowering of the party vote threshold to 4% needs to be considered in conjunction with the one electorate seat threshold’s removal. When doing so, it is clear that there would be a rise in disproportionality from the status quo. When past election results are subjected to the Gallagher Index, which measures electoral disproportionality, there is indeed an average increase in disproportionality under a 4%–no electorate seat threshold arrangement. If the Labour Party’s proposal is implemented alongside some of the Electoral Commission’s other recommendations, such as abolishing overhangs (which restricts Parliament to 120 seats), disproportionality could further increase. This goes against the explicit intention of MMP, which is to produce Parliaments with the least possible disproportionality.

All this is grounds for lowering the threshold lower than 4%. A threshold of 3%, for instance, would lower the number of party votes required below 100,000, slightly increase the number of parties receiving representation, and more effectively counteract the disproportionality caused by the one electorate seat threshold’s removal. In regards to the proposals however, the state of affairs today may be preferable, even with the disproportionate influence it grants voters in some electorates, as that is a less negative outcome compared to the disenfranchisement of a larger numbers of voters, a smaller numbers of parties in Parliament, and increased disproportionality.

The Electoral Commission did make a provision for the 4% threshold to be reviewed in future (in three elections’ time), with a view towards potentially lowering it to 3%, and David Shearer’s Members’ Bill echoed this provision. It is unclear from the current Labour Party (or Green Party) proposals whether this would be retained. However, the waiting period for this of three elections, or nine years, is still a long time for this disproportionality to persist.

The case for abolishing the one electorate seat threshold is strong. Unfortunately, its removal when paired with the lowering of the party vote threshold to 4% produces a range of undesirable effects, from potentially disenfranchising many voters to increasing Parliament’s disproportionality. There is a stronger case to be made for lowering the party vote threshold further if the one electorate seat threshold’s removal is desired. As it is, implementing the Labour Party’s proposals is likely to produce an increased consolidation of the larger parties’ representation and power, whilst minimising minor party representation compared to now. If we subscribe to the idea that our Parliament should aim to enfranchise as many voters and represent as many different political views as possible, notions which underlie the MMP electoral system, then the proposals cannot be supported.

Pasan is currently completing a Master of Arts in Political Studies. When not crying over his thesis, he enjoys copious amounts of tea, murder mysteries, and cat appreciation.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

A Policy A Day: Targeting Gangs

In the lead-up to the election, we are going to examine one policy per (working) day. We've selected policies to be as balanced as possible across a range of policy areas and across the political parties. The idea is to explain the background, analyse the policy to investigate the pros and cons, and give a verdict on the policy at the end. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. Also, I say 'we' because this series will feature some guest posts from other young people, to share their thoughts and ideas as well. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is by Camille Wrightson.

Law and order policies are easy pickings for politicians. We hear the “get tough on crime” rhetoric most elections, because the public loves it and parties come off as authoritative and austere. Right-wing parties generally take the "hard line" approach to crime, and this election is no exception: ACT and Conservative have flagship policies regarding tougher sentences for criminals. National has taken an interesting approach with its justice policies this year. Their general law and order policies are definitely on the tougher side, but their higher profile gang policy, despite the "getting tough on gangs" slogan, has, partly, a more measured approach.

There are, perhaps unsurprisingly, some significant practical and rights-based issues with the policy. National does have to play to the more extreme of its supporters, including those who commented many times over that a bullet would be an easier way of dealing with gang members.

Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley announced the policy last month, which includes four big initiatives:

1. A multi-agency Gang Intelligence Centre led by the Police and based at their national headquarters. The agencies involved would be Police, Corrections, Justice, MSD, Education, Health, Te Puni Kokiri, Housing NZ, Inland Revenue, and Customs;

2. Start at Home, a work programme designed to encourage reintegration and rehabilitation. Corrections services will be targeted at gang members, including violence and addiction services and support, alongside increased effort towards education, employment, and housing;

3. Two Dedicated Enforcement Taskforces: the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Border Protection Taskforce which targets drug-trafficking, including putting drug-dogs at domestic airports, and the Criminal Asset Confiscation Taskforce which would strengthen asset recovery efforts, prevent the financing of crime and target profits received from crime;

4. Strengthening legislation by amending the Sentencing Act to include 24-hour GPS monitoring of high-risk gang affiliates following release from a prison sentence of less than 2 years, to stop them associating with gang members. It would also stop serious gang offenders from buying weapons, and would penalise those who knowingly supply those weapons.

The funding for this policy has been specified as $1.6 million over two years.

Gangs, for generally good reason, have a pretty bad reputation. The statistics provided by the Minister include that while gang members account for 0.1% of the population (approx. 4000 members), they are responsible for:
· 25% of homicide-related charges
· 34% of class A/B drug offences
· 36% of kidnapping and abduction offences
· 25% of robbery/aggravated robbery offences
· 26% of grievous assault offences
She went on to say that these gang members average 53 offences in their lifetime.

There has been some interesting coverage of gang life in New Zealand recently, including the discussion about whether it was fair that a father wasn’t allowed to chaperone at his son’s camp because he was an active gang member, and the story of the Mumzys group of gang wives in Porirua. Articles like this are slowly opening up the gang world to the public, showing that gangs are not just hotbeds of crime – they are also collections of whanau. In the past, Parliament has largely treated gangs as the former, which may explain why previous efforts to control gangs through legislation have had mixed results.

Analysis of the Policy
The response to the multi-agency intelligence centre have been widely welcomed, including by Police Commissioner Mike Bush, Dr Jarrod Gilbert, NZ’s foremost academic on gangs, and the Herald editor. A broader approach to the problem of gangs has been desired for a long time, and using so many different agencies looks like a really positive step. It has been great to hear Minister Tolley saying things like “It is just an acceptance that you are never going to arrest your way out of the gang culture” and that “law and order is only part of the answer”.

Nevertheless, there are some serious issues with the policy.

It is well-documented that crackdown measures on gangs don’t often work that well. Overseas and local research, including by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington DC, has demonstrated that if legislation further stigmatises gangs, this leads to increased internal cohesion and hostility towards authority, rather than the deterrence that was intended. Unison and defiance of gang-members is precisely what the legislation wants to stop, but if it is too heavy-handed it might actually cause that. The GPS monitoring could have this effect. Dr Gilbert has said that under legislation like this “they feel like they’re being attacked and so they create their own value systems to rebel against that. It creates perverse outcomes.”

There are human rights concerns with the GPS tracking proposal as well. The biggest concern is a breach of section 17 of the Bill of Rights Act – freedom of association. Practical issues also arise – if you are from a small town, and/or your only circle of friends/family/whanau is gang-connected, it is highly unlikely or even desirable that you will avoid those people after your release from prison. Minister Tolley has said that currently there has been no Ministry of Justice vetting regarding implications on human rights with this policy. While presumably the legislation would be checked by the Attorney-General for any breaches as it made its way through the legislative process, the Government hasn’t had a particularly good track record of listening to the AG’s concerns in recent years.

Dr Gilbert has accused the Government of overstating the problem. He has raised concerns with the statistics the Minister used, suggesting that the figure that 28% of inmates are gang members also includes gang associates. This would mean that not just active, patched members were included, but also anyone who has any connection to anyone in a gang. This potentially means we’re dealing with a pool of 60 000 people as opposed to 4000.

Also, the initiatives targeting the drug trade rely on an assumption that gangs are responsible for the majority of drug trafficking. This is not necessarily the case, as apprehension data recorded by the police have gang affiliates making up between just 7 and 12% of apprehensions depending on the type of drug. A focus on gangs while trying to address drug trafficking may well mean that, in the words of Dr Gilbert, “the drug dealers who aren’t in gangs, the vast majority of drug dealers, tend to go under the radar. And that is a problem, it’s a problem for all of us.”

While the multi-faceted approach is a great idea, it’s going to need sufficient funding for it to work. $1.6 million over two years is a drop in the bucket, and isn’t a particularly good omen.

However by far the biggest issue with this policy, and with most anti-gang policies, is that it doesn’t address the root issue. Gangs thrive in communities that have issues with poverty, unemployment and poor education. As long as Kiwis struggle with these issues, we will always have gangs. If the Government is unwilling to seriously address them, then any legislation attacking gangs is bound to fail. The multi-agency approach is a great start, but policy-makers need to look even broader if they want to make a change regarding the underlying causes of gang activity.

Gangs are enabled by social problems as well as by freedoms (of association, of expression) that we have granted all citizens under the Bill of Rights Act. Dr Gilbert warns that “lawmakers must be mindful of chipping away at the latter blindly or due to an inability or unwillingness to tackle the former”.

It would be interesting to know if Minister Tolley has had discussions with leaders in gang communities to better understand their problems and how best to fix them, as Robert Muldoon was well known to do. Those who speak to the media have a very clear message: Denis O’Reilly, lifelong Black Power member, has said that the idea of the Gang Intelligence Centre is a “pathological construct. If we keep on focusing on the illness, we are likely to miss the drivers of wellness. Deal with whanau, not gangs”. Dennis Makalio, Mongrel Mob boss, has said that “what works is when they focus on what the problem is in New Zealand and not a gang… This is not a gang problem, it’s a New Zealand problem. The problem is, if you can’t get employment what are you going to do to feed your family?”

The multi-agency approach is a fantastic step forward in addressing the problems that gangs cause, assuming it is adequately funded. A broader, more holistic approach in this manner has been needed for a long time. Further focus on rehabilitation and reintegration is a major plus as well. The other aspects of the policy don’t bode so well, and show a desire from National to play to its more conservative supporters in election year, rather than listening to the experts or to gangs themselves. Positive change in this area is possible, but we need to consider the general social problems which enable gangs, rather than just manage the after-effects.

[Update: The article mentions that there was some confusion about the statistics - Dr. Gilbert has OIA'd the data and it shows that he was correct.]

Camille Wrightson is a left-leaning Law and Politics student at the University of Otago. She likes feminism, public policy, and making brownie-in-a-mug.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

A Policy A Day: Carbon Tax

In the lead-up to the election, we are going to examine one policy per (working) day. We've selected policies to be as balanced as possible across a range of policy areas and across the political parties. The idea is to explain the background, analyse the policy to investigate the pros and cons, and give a verdict on the policy at the end. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. Also, I say 'we' because this series will feature some guest posts from other young people, to share their thoughts and ideas as well. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's policy comes from the Green Party. Climate Change is a serious issue that faces the entire world, and New Zealanders should play their part in helping address it. The New Zealand Attitude and Values Study (from the Dept of Psychology at the University of Auckland) shows that 72% of New Zealanders believe that climate change is real, and that 62% believe that climate change is anthropogenic (caused by humans). This post assumes that climate change is an issue that we want to make a serious attempt at addressing - if you think that climate change is not a real thing then this is probably not the post (or blog) for you. The question then becomes one of how we address climate change.

In the area of controlling carbon emissions, there are two main systems that have been adopted around the world: cap-and-trade systems and carbon taxes. New Zealand currently uses a cap-and-trade system called the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The Green Party proposes:
- Phase out the failed Emissions Trading Scheme and instead put a meaningful price on carbon through a charge on polluters (full policy document here)
or in other words, scrap the ETS and implement a Carbon Tax instead. They also propose a number of complementary policies, including using the revenue from the Carbon Tax to bring in income and company tax cuts, but this post will focus on the differences between carbon emission control mechanisms rather than what any difference in revenue would be spent on.

With both a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax system, the idea is to set a "price of carbon" so that some financial cost is introduced for carbon emissions. This disincentivises carbon emissions and helps to reduce the overall level of emissions. Without a price of carbon, companies and individuals could emit as much carbon as they want into the environment at no cost to themselves, but it creates a wider cost to society (an externality in economics jargon) - hence, the government has to step in to regulate carbon. In both systems, companies continue to emit carbon until there is some alternative (such as new technology or a different process) that costs less than the price of carbon. The price of carbon is thus very important, because it essentially dictates whether carbon emissions actually decrease or not, while also being careful not to excessively increase the cost of goods and services which would hurt businesses as well as end consumers.

The existing system in New Zealand is the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). In a cap-and-trade system, the government sets a maximum level of carbon that can be emitted throughout the country, and then distributes permits (or "carbon credits") out to companies for free that allow the company to emit carbon up to the value of the permits they hold. Those companies are then able to trade those carbon credits as necessary - some companies will be given fewer credits than they need, and will have to purchase from other companies who hold more credits than they need. Eventually, the government stops distributing permits, as carbon absorbers (such as forest owners) "generate" carbon credits that they can sell into the market. The idea is that carbon emissions are controlled by market mechanisms - supply and demand drives the price of carbon with as little government intervention as possible. With a floating price, carbon generally becomes more expensive over time as the government tries to reduce the overall cap but companies want to grow. As the price rises, companies are increasingly incentivised to find other ways to conduct business without emitting as much carbon, and thus the goal of the government is achieved. There is a dual incentive because as the price rises it also becomes more profitable for companies to plant trees and earn carbon credits to sell on the market. However, because the price is floating it provides less certainty for businesses, especially since the price of carbon can be difficult to predict. This makes it harder for companies to price their products for customers, who generally expect stable prices. This is one of the biggest problems identified by the Green Party in the existing system - companies are generally forced to pass a larger cost onto their customers (for example, the price of carbon might be $22 per tonne of CO2 but the company uses $25 per tonne of CO2 in their pricing - customers would be annoyed if a bottle of milk cost $2 one week and $2.50 the next week and $2.20 the week after due to the carbon price changing) to allow for price fluctuations and a general upwards trend over time (it's better for the company and customer expectations to just keep the price at the upper level).

The Green Party policy is to replace the ETS with a Carbon Tax. In this system, the government sets a carbon price, and then all emitters are forced to pay a tax on their emissions to the government. In comparison to the cap-and-trade system, the price of carbon is fixed, not floating at the whim of market forces, but it is important for the government to get the price right. Additionally, the government increases their revenue and can spend the money from the tax on other policies such as incentivising forestry (and thus tree planting that absorbs carbon) or providing income tax cuts. The intended effect of the tax is to force companies to avoid the tax by changing their processes to emit less carbon, or alternatively to generate enough revenue to reduce carbon emissions in other ways (such as tree planting), thus achieving the goal of the government. However, there is no limit on the amount of carbon emitted - as long as companies (and their customers) can afford the price of carbon, then companies can continue to emit. Ideally, companies will change their processes to reduce carbon emissions if the carbon tax is high enough, but in reality companies generally just pass the cost of the carbon tax onto consumers (similarly to GST), which may not actually incentivise any behavioural or process changes in the carbon emitters. Purely theoretically, there is also no dual incentive to plant trees because there is no reward for doing so, although in reality most carbon tax systems use some of the revenue to give subsidies/grants to forestry. I should note here that some economists advocate for a hybrid design - some mixture of both; for example, a cap-and-trade system that has government defined price floors and ceilings to restrict the market between reasonable values. At the moment, the government essentially has a price ceiling by selling carbon credits at $25/CO2, so that if the market exceeds this price there is always an option for companies to purchase from the government instead of the market, forcing the market price back down.

Analysis of the Policy
The above background gives a reasonably theoretical view of the two main carbon pricing systems. Theoretically, both systems achieve the same ends - they reduce carbon emissions. The cost to carbon emitters is lower in a cap-and-trade system, but the government doesn't get any revenue (and generally ends up paying more money in subsidies and other schemes). The cost to carbon emitters is higher in a carbon tax system, but the government can generate a significant amount of revenue. Which system a country uses therefore becomes influenced by ideology - a right-wing government that is more business-friendly and believes in smaller government favours a cap-and-trade system (as evidenced by NZ's ETS), while a left-wing government that believes in the welfare state and the power of government to help people favours a carbon tax. A right-wing government also tends to believe in the power of the free market to achieve economic efficiency (cap-and-trade), while the left-wing government supports government regulation and intervention to provide better control to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved (carbon tax). The ETS was actually introduced in 2008 by the Labour government, before being amended heavily by the National government in 2009 and 2012.

Apart from ideology, it is important to look at whether the status quo ETS is working, and whether a carbon tax would resolve any problems. Pricing carbon is a relatively young strategy (the first was a carbon tax in Finland in the 1990s), and while there are now a large number of countries with either a cap-and-trade system or carbon tax, there is insufficient data to declare one system better than the other through empirical evidence. In general (page 12 of this document), European states have opted for carbon taxes while Asian and American states have gone towards cap-and-trade systems. So unfortunately, we can't look overseas for a "correct" answer. For this reason, I feel a little uncomfortable about Russel Norman's claims that the ETS is failed. We have to give these systems a bit more time to see if they will work; prematurely rejecting them would not only be wasteful, but might send us down the wrong track instead. Having said that, there are certainly some signs that the ETS as it stands in New Zealand may not be working.

At the root of the problems with the ETS is that the implementation in New Zealand does not match the theory. In an effort to appease business interests, the government was forced to phase in the ETS gradually, and the exceptions to the scheme just piled up. Right now, agriculture has been excluded from the ETS, which just doesn't make sense when agriculture is responsible for nearly half of all carbon emissions in New Zealand. The original intention was to include agriculture by 2015, but the lobbyists won and date for when agriculture gets included in the ETS is now not set at all. The argument is that forcing agriculture to pay extra for carbon credits (or a tax for that matter) increases the costs of production and hurts our competitive ability in export markets. This is a legitimate argument but goes against the entire point of carbon pricing, which is to force companies to reduce their carbon emissions by finding alternative ways to conduct their business. As indicated in the previous section, the ETS has also brought harm to consumers, as businesses forced to allow for fluctuating carbon prices have passed on higher costs to consumers than the actual costs of the carbon - some businesses are essentially profiting off the ETS. There are issues with the (free) allocation of carbon credits to certain industries, as well as the (previous) trading of carbon credits on the international market that largely undermine the ETS. There are many problems with the existing ETS, and something probably needs to be done to address them.

The question is then whether a carbon tax would resolve those problems or be otherwise more effective than the ETS. This is where the water becomes a lot murkier because there is little real evidence beyond assertions to show that a carbon tax would do a better job than a cap-and-trade scheme. An ideal carbon tax system as proposed might do better than the broken cap-and-trade system we have now, but realistically any carbon tax system is likely to be modified and weakened to meet the demands of businesses and industry. A broken carbon tax system is unlikely to be better than a broken ETS. It then comes down to which party has more resolve to withstand those demands - there is an argument that the Green Party will be more principled and stand stronger than the National Party. Whether this is true cannot be tested until the Green Party is in government, and cynically I'm not sure if the Green Party (as a support partner for the Labour Party) would be entirely immune from lobbyist pressures.

If we are to switch to a carbon tax, then we need to be aware of the side effects. Firstly is the massive cost in phasing out the ETS, re-educating the public and businesses, and re-implementing a new tax. This compliance cost is non-negligible, and would delay progress towards a working system. One of the most common arguments for a carbon tax is that it provides certainty for businesses because they know how expensive carbon will be - but for a carbon tax to be effective it has to be flexible to respond to changes in global markets and the environment, introducing uncertainty. Leaving the price of carbon in the hands of the government could therefore be dangerous - the intention is for the price to be relatively fixed without constant adjustments, which means that it is difficult and slow for the government to respond to change. Additionally, just like how the OCR is a blunt tool for controlling inflation, a carbon tax rate would be similarly blunt as it has less granularity than a market-set price. It is also difficult for the government to know exactly where to set the price - the Green Party has proposed $25/tonne of CO2 (except for agriculture, set at $12.50/tonne of CO2 (and paying out $12.50/tonne of CO2 to forestry)), but we can't be sure whether this number is too high or too low until it is implemented and we see the effects. At least in a cap-and-trade system, the price can correct itself quickly if the price is too high or too low - in a carbon tax, the price is set and difficult to change.

Lastly, the fact that there is no upper limit of emissions set in a carbon tax scheme means that there is potentially no limit to emissions. Yes, businesses are disincentivised from emissions and encouraged to use cleaner processes, but businesses simply pass the costs onto customers (it is probably important to note that the Green Party policy (page 12) to use the revenue from a carbon tax on tax cuts and a tax-free threshold would supposedly leave households better off even after taking the increase in household costs into account). In a cap-and-trade system costs are also passed onto customers (perhaps less efficiently), but at least there is a limitation on the total amount of emissions allowed. In the carbon tax system, companies continue to emit at will (at a flat tax rate), and pass the tax on. In the cap-and-trade system, if they continue to emit at will the price rises and it becomes increasingly expensive to emit more. From this perspective, it seems that a cap-and-trade system will probably achieve the desired end of limiting and reducing carbon emissions better than the carbon tax system. The only way to combat this in a carbon tax system is to set the carbon price very high, which is not responsive and would unfairly penalise all emitters when only some emitters may be increasing emissions.

Verdict: While I agree that the ETS as it stands is broken and untenable, I'm not convinced that a carbon tax is the best alternative - maybe that's my conservative economics coming through. I don't think that starting again is necessarily the right move - I would prefer to see a government make the ETS work like it was intended to by removing subsidies, enforcing the scheme on the agricultural industry, and in general make it more stable. Maybe some government intervention is needed to set price floors and ceilings, but that would be preferable (in my view) to a carbon tax.

Monday 15 September 2014

A Policy A Day: Capping School Donations

In the lead-up to the election, we are going to examine one policy per (working) day. We've selected policies to be as balanced as possible across a range of policy areas and across the political parties. The idea is to explain the background, analyse the policy to investigate the pros and cons, and give a verdict on the policy at the end. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. Also, I say 'we' because this series will feature some guest posts from other young people, to share their thoughts and ideas as well. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is by Simon Johnson.

In July 2014 and to great public fanfare, the Labour party announced a package of educational reform designed to reduce inequality and improve social mobility amongst the young people of this fair land. Labour faithfully promises that it will, through the benign and liberal agency of the Ministry of Education, improve the life chances of all young New Zealanders, set the teachers free from the reign of the Hated Honourable Hekia Parata [1], and institute general happiness across New Zealand schools which will be set free from the shackles of poverty and oppression. In short, a new Jerusalem for education in New Zealand's "green and pleasant land." [2]

All good, tub-thumping stuff and an overall aim that no sensible commentator could argue against. Of course, making big political statements is easy but making real change requires detailed policies. Time, and Andrew's patience, prohibits me from examining each of Labour's proposed educational policies in the detail they deserve. Instead, I shall limit myself in this blog to focusing on the policy proposal which caused the most hot air in the public press: the proposed additional funding for those schools which do not charge 'school fees' or ask for 'donations'.

At the moment, a state school in New Zealand [3] receives money from the Government to pay for its day-to-day running costs [4]. The amount of money a school receives is roughly calculated on a per-pupil basis, with an additional sum if the school has a large concentration of the poorest students (through the 'decile system'). This, the Ministry of Education claims [5], gives schools the money they need to deliver the core educational curriculum.  In addition to this government income, a school may raise alternative income through other means – international students, trading income [6] and 'donations' are the most common – to fund the additional extras that a school wishes to offer its students. Crucially, a school is not allowed to make 'donations' compulsory [7]. Despite calling them 'school fees' and – worryingly often – exerting a degree of pressure on parents, a school cannot legally require parents to pay school fees [8].  The new policy idea is that the government will give additional money (at the rate of $100 per student) to any school that does not ask for donations.  In this new world, voluntary 'donations' will still be permitted but, so the Labour party believe, most schools will not ask for them. Instead they will take the easy money from the government. Of course, this is only true if the school currently reliably receives less than $100 per student in donations. Otherwise, they would act in an economically rational way and continue to accept donations [9].

As a starter, a close look at the data makes the Labour party look a little foolish. Their policy paper assumes 78% of schools will take up the $100 per student offer [10] and thus this will cost the Treasury $55M per year. To calculate these numbers, they made the erroneous assumption that most schools in deciles 1-7 receive less than $100 per student in donation income. As part of this paper, I have requested from the Ministry of Education school-level financial data [11].  This new data reveals that only 42% (vs. the predicted 78%) of schools get less than $100 per student in donation income [12]. Hence, assuming schools act rationally and only accept money from the government when it is less than their donation income, the policy is likely to cost the Treasury ~$29M (in 2012 dollars). Labour have miscalculated the price by approximately 50%. Oops.

The politically partisan amongst us can now stop reading and enjoy a nice 'yaa-boo' moment at the expense of a Labour party who have got their sums wrong, again. The non-partisan of us can sigh at another example of quick headline grabbing leading to under-developed policy solutions and make a plea (again) for evidence-based public policy.  However, what really concerns me is why this mistake happened. Why do the Labour party think that giving $100 per pupil will level the income disparity between schools? What does this show about Labour thinking?

Partially, it could be that the Labour party don't want to equalise the financial basis of schools, despite their stated intentions. They could also have just been lazy in the calculations. However, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they intended this policy to have a real impact. In my view, the key reason for this massive misunderstanding is that I don't think the Labour party have got their heads around the extent of the difference in income between the richest and poorest schools in New Zealand.  The richest schools in New Zealand (those in decile 10) have, on average, 59% more income than a school in decile 1. This is additional purchasing power, of the sort of that funds swimming pools, sports facilities and the like. This additional purchasing power is driven by a hefty difference in donation income. 43% of a school's budget in decile 10 is comprised of donation income; 1% in decile 1.  This conclusion doesn't really surprise anyone ('of course decile 10 schools can charge more fees, they have richer parents') but what is amazing is the scale. For every $100 that a decile 1 school spends, a decile 10 school spends $159. This, when magnified over a school's scale, is a phenomenal difference in real spending power – as the next graph shows.

(A technical deviation: the average size of a school in decile 10 is significantly greater than a school in decile 1. Given this, it could be argued that this next graph should not look at the total income per school but instead look at the total income per pupil. If we did this, we would find that decile 1 schools have significantly greater funding per pupil than other schools. However, I would reject the conclusion that follows from this (that there is no issue with regressive funding) – what matters is that high decile schools have a much greater purchasing capacity, which is partially driven by their scale effect.)

Faced with this massive, massive difference in income between schools, $100 per pupil is pretty irrelevant. A government grant of $100 per pupil is simply not enough to rectify the difference in spending power between the poorest and richest schools. The graph below makes this clear: the light yellow bars show the average funding (from all sources) today; the dark yellow bars show the average funding that a school would recevieve under the new model. Nothing changes. The policy does next to nothing to reduce the difference in income between schools of different deciles. Of course, this is not the same as saying that a school will get more money: 42% of schools will get more money to spend. The problem is that this new extra money will be spread evenly across all deciles. If the aim of the policy is to reduce the difference in spending power between schools of different deciles, it will manifestly fail.

So let us ask ourselves a slightly different question: is it a good thing that the New Zealand government should give additional funding to schools (at some amount) if the school agrees to not accept donation income?  In other words, is this a policy which matters?

New Zealand is relatively unusual within the western world for having a culture of school donations. A non-exhaustive benchmarking exercise [13] reveals that UK state schools are completely prohibited from receiving donations by law [14]. Donations, it is argued, would be unfair because they would deliver superior facilities to richer children who could afford to pay for them. As New Zealand shows us, this is undoubtedly true: the facilities offered by a decile 10 school are of a different order to a low-decile school. Crucially, it cannot be shown by any rigorous study that such facilities make a difference to student outcomes. As John Hattie's marvellous book shows, the provision (or not) of sports facilities, drama studios and expensive camps actually makes only a tiny difference on education performance. Much more important to outcome is teacher quality and motivation [15]. If it could be shown that poor children did worse in their exams because they were denied the opportunity that this money can provide, then there would be a compelling case for government invention to level the playing field. This cannot be shown and therefore there is no outcomes-based reason to restrict donations.

(Another technical deviation: due to the mechanics of teacher funding in New Zealand, schools cannot use donation income to pay for teacher salaries or for more teachers [although they can pay for more teacher-aides and teaching assistants]. This is deliberate and limits the ability of richer schools to 'poach' good teachers with higher salaries.  There is a different and much longer argument to be had about whether this protection fully works (a clue: it doesn't) but that is a deviation from this argument. For the moment, it is sufficient to note that being a richer school is not linked in a straightforward way with the ability to pay more for teaching staff.)

This conclusion doesn't feel entirely satisfactory. Even if better sports facilities and drama studios do not lead to better examination outcomes, one could still argue that it is unfair that poorer students are denied the opportunities that the state system (which is meant to be equal for every student) provides to richer students. This is a matter of personal political convictions and a personal definition of what is meant by 'fair'. For myself, I make no clear adjudication on the issue, but I do very clearly acknowledge the political difficulties of abolishing donations in New Zealand.  I leave it for the reader to decide whether they consider this massive difference in income between schools in the state system 'fair'.

Back to the policy. We can conclude:
- The Labour party has got its sums wrong: its proposed change in donations policy is likely to cost 50% less than they predicted and affect only half as many schools as they anticipated [Editor's note: assuming that they stay at the proposed $100/student]
- There is a very real difference in spending power between New Zealand's richest and poorest schools, driven by donation income – and the proposed $100/additional per student does very little to address this.
- This donation income is affecting the amount of facilities a school can provide – but there is no robust evidence that these facilities make students perform better in exams
- Whether to restrict donations comes down to a matter of personal understandings of 'fairness' and whether we think it right that rich schools should have better facilities

The result is that Labour's big new education policy is a bit of a waste of political capital. It will make the budgets of the very poorest schools a bit easier (although it won't bring them up to anything like the level of a rich school) but does not remodel the education system. Rich schools will remain just as rich as they are now; it is not a full-fronted attack on the very real income disparity that exists between schools.  If this is something that Labour are passionate about tackling then they should really tackle it. If it is not a priority, and the evidence suggests that it should not be, then Labour should have spent their time on something which really matters – like teacher quality.

Conclusion of the conclusion: the policy is a waste of political effort. Focus on something which matters.

Simon is a former Treasury official and is now a management consultant. He writes in his personal capacity and has no party-political affiliation. All data is Ministry of Education, released under the Official Information Act and is from 2012. He is happy to share the data on request. He would like to thank the officials who responded so willingly and helpfully to his data requests. He would also like to thank the three people who commented on the article in draft form and whose helpful comments clarified many areas. [Editor's Note: The author no longer resides in New Zealand. He's also rather tall and very British.]

[1] The current Minister of Education, should anyone's memory need a refresh. Refer to also 'Novopay' and 'class sizes' debacles.
[2] As William Blake nearly said.
[3] This paragraph refers to state schools, not integrated schools which have separate funding arrangements.
[4] It also receives money to fund one-off capital (building) expenditure - a different topic.  Teaching salaries are also paid direct by the Ministry of Education, on a national pay-scale, driven by the number of students.
[5] And some headteachers very strongly dispute
[6] e.g. renting out facilities to community groups etc.
[7] The right to a free education is guaranteed by s.3 of the Education Act (1989) – a provision which does not prohibit schools from charging for other non-core expenses (such as school camps, etc.)
[8] This is different for international parents
[9] This is a simplification, obviously, which assumes the transactional costs of donation-receipts to be negligible and no political/ideological reason to act in an economically irrational way.
[10] They don't bother to publish this number. I have worked it out for them based on their stated assumption of 100% of schools in deciles 1-7 accepting the offer and 30% of schools in deciles 7-10 accepting it.
[11] The OIA act is a wonderful thing  - I would encourage people to make more use of it.  This data is now available on request from me to anyone who wants it. [Editor's note: Comment below or tweet at Andrew]
[12] I make two assumptions in this analysis which (unlike the Labour party) I shall make explicit: firstly, this is 2012-3 data, the last year available. It may have changed non-materially in 2013-4. Second, there are a small number of schools who do not report donation income. Unfortunately, I have been unable to ascertain from MinEdu if these are schools which do not report donation income or schools who don't collect them so have excluded all of them. This is very unlikely to change the analysis in a non-trivial way
[13] A fancy term for me google-ing [Editor's note: and not bothering to look very far]
[14] Although new models of 'academy' education are starting to change this, it remains true that there is no culture of parental donation to schools
[15] John Hattie Visible Learning

Saturday 13 September 2014

Who's on The Civilian Party List?

I received my election pack from the Electoral Commission on Friday, which included the party lists for the election. Expecting The Civilian Party to only have one name (and a pineapple) on their list, I was pleasantly surprised to find eight names on the bit of paper. So let's have a closer look at who these people are, using only the first page of Google to see what we can find (Disclaimer: this is just what Google says, these might be the wrong people or it might be the wrong information. Having said that, Google knows everything right?):

Ben is famous enough to have his own Twitter account, and is the editor of The Civilian Newspaper (on the internet). His bio on that website lists him as a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canterbury (false), married with a six year old daughter (false), and a belief that he is better able to inform the public of the news than the actual news (plausibly true). He was a finalist for the NZ Herald New Zealander of the Year in 2013 and spoke at TEDx Christchurch, where he revealed that he was actually born in Whangarei (formerly known as Wangarei). His degree from the University of Canterbury is in Political Science. He is the public face of the party, appearing on TV a few times, much like Colin Craig for the Conservatives or Peter Dunne for United Future or Winston Peters for NZ First, so they're all pretty much the same.

2 WALSH, Lucy-Jane
Lucy-Jane appears to be a Business Analyst for the Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive (CEISMIC) at the University of Canterbury. Her degree from the University of Canterbury is in English Literature (with Honours). She was once reported missing with her father while tramping, but they were found two days later safe although hungry and cold. She once commented on a Civilian post on Facebook, saying "brilliant".

3 GOWER, Marcus
Marcus, a former IT Consultant, is currently a Councillor on the Waipa District Council representing the Te Awamutu Ward. His party is listed as "The awesome choice!" His wife was featured in a rather long article in the Daily Mail in 2008 for being "used" by a gay man who was actually in love with their priest and was later married in Britain's first gay church "wedding". Projects that Marcus has worked on within the Council include a cycle strategy, community gardens, and a new library and museum.

4 TOPP, Michael
Michael is a civil engineer working at Harrison Grierson, graduating from the University of Canterbury with an Engineering Honours (2nd Class Division 1) degree in 2013 (according to LinkedIn). He once wrote an open letter to Nick Smith fighting against fracking that was published in the student magazine Canta in the column that was normally written by Ben Uffindell.

5 O'NEILL, Katie
Katie is possibly a photographer in New Plymouth, a mountain biker from Rotorua, a copywriter/project manager in Christchurch, or a racing horse in 1995 from Matamata. On the balance of probabilities I'm going to guess that she's the one with a BA in English and Japanese who enjoys long walks, good friends and travel (but not Oxford commas).

6 BERGER, Harry
A former Wellington College student who earned four Outstanding Scholarships and one Scholarship (making him one of ten Premier Scholars in 2012), Harry is a student at the Victoria University of Wellington where he has a Victoria Excellence Scholarship. He once debated with the Victoria International Leadership Programme (VILP) on "Is inequality natural?" where his team won 49-43. This may or may not be his Twitter account.

7 McLEOD, Tim
There are a number of Tim McLeods on Google, but he is probably the civil engineer who graduated from the University of Canterbury in 2013.

Kim perhaps wins at keeping her life private - all that could be found was an empty LinkedIn profile.