Friday 22 September 2017

A Policy A Day: A Conclusion

The list of articles in this series is available here.

Another election, another series of policy analyses coming to an end. We’ve looked at 33 policies (plus an introduction, three satire pieces, and a conclusion), covering a really really really broad range of topics. Something that always surprises me is just how broad the scope of government really is – we covered twenty-four policies last time, yet the only topic that we’ve covered again is universal basic income. Every single other policy has been different. Also interesting – I think of the 24 pieces from last time, about 22 of them are still relevant – the issues that those policies were trying to solve still exist, and most of the policies we analysed haven’t been implemented. Of course, this is partly because a lot of the policies we analysed last time came from parties that didn’t enter government after the election, but it’s interesting to think about just how much policy never becomes reality. We’ll keep all of the posts from A Policy A Day 2017 here, and hopefully this resource will be helpful and relevant for years to come if anyone is interested in any of these topics.

A huge thank you to all the other authors for contributing pieces this time around. It meant that I didn’t have to write twelve pieces like I did last time, but it also meant that we were able to hear a lot more different voices. I wasn’t particularly prescriptive with the writing style or content requirements, and editing all the pieces has been an interesting experience, just seeing the wide variety of ways that these policy pieces can be written. All of our authors were (relatively) young, and all of them are engaged with how policies and decisions are made – we need more people like these.

I don’t want to spend too much space summing up, because I also asked each of our guest authors to answer the question “if you could tell the incoming government one thing, what would it be?” A lot of authors struggled with this (mostly finding it difficult to reduce it down to one thing), but hopefully we have here some sense of what (some) youth would like the government to do, no matter who happens to be in charge after Saturday.

Nicole Buxeda (Water Pricing):
Value what we have, not turn away from the difficult conversations, and follow those difficult conversations up with action. When you look at statistics for pollution, water quality, air quality, rate of extinction of native species, and a myriad more, the entire picture is depressing. It is easier to decide that the problem is just too huge, that New Zealand is doing comparatively well, and that we will just leave things as they are. This is not an acceptable approach to take. The government needs to look at the problems, and grit their collective teeth and deal with these problems by working with businesses, communities, and individuals in a way that embraces our natural values and supports communities. We are in a position, through merit of our political, economic and social system, where we can be more than ‘ok’, and in fact we must be more than ok in order to preserve species, clean rivers, drinkable water, clean air, and the beauty and life and soul that is New Zealand.

Jason Armishaw (Fiscal Drag and A Fiscal Apocalypse - Superannuation):
The effects of an individual policy are wider and broader than the solution that they are meant to be targeting, there is no policy "area". Environmental policy affects economic policy, law and order and healthcare. Deep analysis needs to be done to prevent merciless unintended consequences in another part of the state sector.

Anonymous (Humanising Criminal Justice):
Listen to people who are already doing the mahi, and who have first-hand experience of the problems you're trying to fix. The solutions are nearer than you think and don't require rocket science.

Pasan Jayasinghe and Sahanika Ratnayake (Immigration: A Personal Retrospective):
This is a frighteningly dire time in world politics for reasons they should be well aware of, and they should be extremely wary of dragging New Zealand down the same frightening road.

Claire Black (Trans Rights):
Do your jobs: support and protect New Zealand’s most vulnerable.

Elliot Hurst (Degrowth for Aotearoa):
It’s politically expedient to keep muddling along, but our current approach to politics and economics is driving us off a cliff, or at least to some scary fortress world of crippling inequality and authoritarianism. Read up on climate science, understand decolonisation, and use your power to push things forward.

Dhanya Herath (Refugees and Asylum Seekers):
Focus on creating a world for your children's children, not tomorrow's press release - and above all else, be kind.

Ben Tan (A Vision for The Arts and An Alternative Model for Policy Making):
Never forget that your duty is to look after the New Zealanders of yesterday, today, and tomorrow (no matter what they look or sound like).

Jenny Sahng (Tertiary Education Pathways):
If we could provide a fair and equally accessible education system that nurtures our youth to their fullest potential, imagine the world we could live in. Equip young Kiwis with the resilience and mindset to become lifelong learners, both in the classroom and out in the workforce. Instill confidence in their unique set of skills and abilities, and show them how to use it to contribute in their own extraordinary way. Education is a panacea, and I want to see a government that patiently invests in it for the long run.

Ash Stanley-Ryan (New Zealand’s Role in Asia):
Be aware that none of their policies or promises exist in isolation. If you change home ownership rules, you're going to affect our FTAs. If you make the penal system stricter, you're going to negatively affect society's most vulnerable people. Think about the flow-ons from the policies you've campaigned on, not just the buzzwords that drew you the votes, and make policy packages that address the entire issue, not just your talking point.

Anonymous (America’s Cup Broadcasting):
There are lots of important issues to tackle but one of the most significant is mental health in New Zealand. We are simply losing too many people, especially young ones. Don’t let political goals inhibit your response because those most vulnerable simply cannot afford further delay and need meaningful support now.

Phoebe Balle (Treaty Education in Schools):
Please comply with your responsibilities under the Treaty and UNDRIP. Many thanks.

Simon Johnson (Teach First):
“All glory is fleeting.” Seriously though, getting stuff done in government is hard. Set a few well defined and ambitious goals and throw everything into achieving them.

Jade Kake (Urban Development Authorities):
Prioritise Māori outcomes. Not just because we are overrepresented amongst those experiencing homelessness, living in substandard housing, and locked out of home ownership; but because we are your equal partners under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and equality between Māori and tauiwi is good for everyone ngā iwi katoa.

Simon Thomas (Universal Basic Income):
Proponents of a UBI are not solely from the left or from the right. A UBI has the potential to address issues of welfare, as well as innovation and entrepreneurship. Experiments are beginning to pop up all over the world, with varying success, and it seems to me that NZ - being an innovative, small, and self-labelled “forward thinking” country - should be the perfect place to test it further. Also, I quite like smashed avo.

Anonymous (Incarceration and Privatisation):
There are people living in New Zealand in less than ideal situations, and they need a government that allows and encourages them to speak up, without fear of support being taken away from them.

Zoe Higgins (Sickness and Disability Benefits):
Money put into social services pays itself back. Climate change is real, and if you aren’t taking urgent action you don’t understand what that means. Honour the Treaty.

Jack Robinson (Software Patents):
I think the best thing is to think about the future and to be open about cross-generation discussions on what affects them most - Climate Change, for example, may not affect your generation enough, but it’s the generations that follow that will inevitably have to pick up the pieces, and it’s up to you to help set up following generations and be prepared.

Charlotte Austin (Relationship Testing for Benefits):
We need strong leadership that isn’t afraid to make unpopular choices if it’s best for New Zealand and the world’s long-term future. The intergenerational effects of climate change could be devastating, and we need to take action now.

Erin Donohue (Youth Sexuality Education):
Sometimes everyone needs looked after and it is always deserved, regardless of how or why they need the care.

Maanya Tandon (Genderand Ethnicity Income Equity):
You may only be around for three years, but the best things in New Zealand have been crafted by those governments that looked further ahead than their immediate term, and wider than their own electoral base. ALL human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights – this is something you literally signed, and should probably remember.

Patrick Thomsen (Pasifika Advancement):
Assimilation is not integration and diversity in population make up doesn't make for diverse policies. In our rush to close the gap between the haves and have nots, please don't forget the glaringly obvious -ethnicity matters just as much as class difference. Both impact each other and understand this will be the key to unlocking future Pasifika success and advancement.

Mark Hanna (Informed Consent in Healthcare):
We can have the best rules in the world, but if they're not enforced they may as well not exist. Or, worse, those rules can give the impression that a problem has been solved when really it's just being ignored.

Lamia Imam (Addressing Homelessness):
Curbing human rights never made any nation stronger, wealth inequality never made a country richer, justice should not be revenge, and forced pregnancy is not moral. A government should do all that it can do so its people can live their best lives.

Lauren Watson (Mental Healthcare):
Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi. With your food basket and my food basket, together we can feed the people. The lead up to the election divides us on what we care about, but we all want New Zealander to thrive, and it’s important to recognise that have an obligation to ensure everybody is fed.

Ben Ogilvie (Public Service Reform):
We can afford to fully fund Gender Reassignment Surgeries, and it would do so, so much good if we did.

Elina Ashimbayeva (Life Skills):
Not everyone will like one party and that’s OK, but it is important not to polarise our society on the basis of party policies. Also, ask what people want more often. Don’t rely on the loudest voices of groups or individuals.

Last time around I said that the election was very interesting, yet somehow this one topped it. With so much volatility, we can only hope that we have some calm, smooth sailing ahead. 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 21 September 2017

A Policy A Day: Life Skills

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is written by Elina Ashimbayeva

Life Skills, or "Being Competent At Life And Not Being A Dick"

The Opening (just in case I go on a tangent and it might take some time to understand what this article is about)
  • Teaching life skills at schools and at home should be as important as teaching our kids how to read, write, and hate our “favourite” neighbours’ children who leave their toys on our lawn
  • It is crucial to have politicians as leaders to embody the change towards happier lives and to help people help themselves
  • Politicians should be talking about job enjoyment, life choices, empathy, respect, and decision making and not just about getting “damn immigrants” out of our country or how mining will definitely kill all the dolphins in the nearby gulf

The Tangent
All of us, A Policy A Day authors, wrote so many wonderfully worded, life embedded, issues-and-actions-focused articles coming up to this election. We had people talking about immigration, poverty, education, job markets, disabilities, and other massively important things to consider. We have tried to provoke your thinking, to make you smile, to make you angry, to take responsibility for your choices. Oh, and we tried to show you how our political parties are doing on each front!

A couple of days ago, I had a conversation with my boyfriend when he said: “if we keep propelling the economy forward (whether it is launching cheaper rockets or building more green cars), humanity will follow that economy and it will eventually have to thrive.”

My response to that was: “who cares about the economy when people are miserable?”

Don’t you think if we put more strength and determination into helping others be more life-equipped, the economy would propel itself forward because now people who were hungry have “more exciting” things to do?

When reading this article, you won’t see many references to the political situation in New Zealand, but I hope to provoke your thinking and take responsibility, to hopefully intertwine politics and life.

The Body (section where I explain the situation or possibly go on another tangent)
Being competent at life, in my definition is: to be able to thrive and search for happiness (in any shape you see fit) and not only manage to not hurt others in the process but maybe even help them to thrive for their definition of happiness too.

Introducing an educational standard on life skills would be a great first step to a more wholesome society.

We spend hours, days, years of our life being educated. Educated by our parents, by our teachers, lecturers, bosses, ourselves. As kids, we learn how to count, how to dress ourselves, how to throw a ball, which are all undoubtedly very important. But do we learn how to be proud of our own and others’ achievements? How to empathise? How to live a life where Friday is just another awesome day amongst other 6 awesome days? How to be compassionate? How to respect and admire someone? How to accept people’s sexual choices? How to accept yours?

So, Elina, what should we be teaching and who should be teaching this?
Empathy, communication, goal setting, decision making, conflict resolution, knowing how to ask for help, compassion, gratitude, ecological responsibility - all these skills are critical for living and leading a more mindful life.

I am not minimising the task that is changing a school curriculum, but no big challenge is an easy one. The good news is we have plenty of examples to learn from and research to support this. The Greater Good Science Centre in Berkeley is a leader in this space. They have created an entire community that promotes ‘happiness’ education: research driven and practical examples of how to appropriately incorporate emotional well-being and growth focused approaches into schools and the broader community.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education and multiple other research facilities have shown that teaching positive life-skills to young people at any level not only correlates to their overall better mental state and well-being but even improves their grades.

The job of encouraging our younger generation and thus, our entire generation to be more life-skilled is not on one person’s or one group’s shoulders. We are all responsible, but starting from teaching basic human skills at schools would be a great first step.

What can we do now?
Selecting and more importantly, being leaders of change. As a country, we are far from the idyllic curriculum described on The Ministry of Education’s website. Nevertheless, we are making great progress.

Among many programmes that I might be not aware of or haven’t listed here, we are already doing some wonderful things:
  •  Attitude is an awesome community involved in giving talks on resilience and direction at schools
  •  We have organisations like RainbowYouth that attend schools to promote mental well-being of LGBTI youth and to promote awareness and empathy among students
  •  The Shadow a Leader programme gives opportunities to students (school and University) to learn and connect with people from outside of their environment and get to know more about life ‘after studying’
  •  Motivational festivals like Festival for the Future that bring together many young minds together to inspire and motivate and lead
  •  Great online resources like this one for parents to actively participate in their children’s mental health and well-being
Let’s continue developing these programmes and make them more accessible to all youth in New Zealand. All the initiatives mentioned above operate privately and are not governmentally enforced, advertised uniformly throughout our schools, or part of our curriculum. The government has a role and responsibility to do more.

Yes, yes, we are putting tablets and all that digital stuff into our classrooms, but this holistic view is way more encompassing than that. Imagine having an hour a week when teachers talk about the importance of values and decision making. Or kids doing empathy exercises and talking about the emotional aspects of life.

What about a country wide approach to happiness? The NZTA managed to run one of the best social campaigns ever (“Bro…Monique says you are dumb”) - what about having national campaigns promoting well-being and fulfilment? Imagine what effect that could have on New Zealand!

For some of you reading this, the concept of having a “holistic” education or well-being or life-skills or happiness will sound not only foreign but in a way, offensively hippie. I am writing this because I see people every day who know they could be happier (whatever it means for them) but they are not always equipped to explore it. I grew up amongst beautiful smart individuals, but half of them are taking antidepressants. Most of them chose a job as if they just threw a dart into the air and they feel trapped in their careers. I read case studies from social workers that describe a very different world from what a lot imagine New Zealand to be… We are investing into degrees, cancer treatments, and better roads. What we should be also investing in more is happier people.

This year’s election showed many policies proposed by different parties around funding and quality of education. They are all great policies and this election doesn’t have to answer every single issue we are facing, but happiness is something that all of the parties have been conspicuously silent on.

The Closing Paragraph (so you know you can finally go back to memes)
I hope this article didn’t sound too hippie or too unrealistic, and you are a bit encouraged to go out in the world and advocate for better leadership and human-ship in your life and the lives of others. I encourage you to go and watch at least one YouTube video on life-skills or well-being education, and learn a bit more on how you can be the change we all need.

Elina Ashimbayeva pretends to like exercise, consulting, and science. At night, she laughs at Facebook memes while eating too much chocolate. Cries when sees bunnies.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

A Policy A Day: Public Service Reform

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is by Ben Ogilvie

Public service reform – how parties are planning to run and/or change the government that they’ll take over after the election. I fully expect to get half the hits of my fellow authors, but give me a chance here. The public service is what delivers a lot of the government’s services to New Zealand citizens, and is in charge of contracting most of the rest. Further, it’s the area of government responsible for giving Cabinet advice on what to do, and what not to do. So its effectiveness and proper functioning clearly make a hell of a difference to people’s lives [1]. When you stop to think about it, public administration is, I’d argue, the least stable policy area in New Zealand, changing up a little with every government since the 1980s. There have been reforms which essentially define, according to your opinion of them, whether you’re left or right wing in this country even today.

Those reforms (introducing a very contractual approach to employment in the public service; the privatisation of state owned assets; use of market systems in some areas of regulation such as the fisheries quota; and disaggregation of government departments) were the application of neoclassical economic theory to the business of running the country – often talked about as ‘New Public Management’ (NPM for short). New Zealand is well-known in the international academic literature for being the most comprehensive and ‘pure’ in its adoption of an NPM approach. It was, in some ways, an understandable move. The new Labour government had inherited a ‘command and control’-style public service that wasn’t really fit-for-purpose to address the modern challenges that were emerging. The public service wasn’t all that inclined to do what the government of the day wanted from it, and needed a hell of a shakeup. The NPM approach was what Treasury, quietly ignored, had been cooking up over the last few years under Muldoon, and could serve up as a ready-made solution. The Bolger/Shipley governments after 1993 pushed NPM further, until the Schick Report in 1996 suggested that while the reforms had solved a number of problems well, they’d created a whole new set of problems that were, perhaps, starting to get slightly out of hand.

The Clark government through the 2000s took the position that the public service needed to be reinvested in, and oversaw the “managing for outcomes” and “review from the centre” initiatives. Both attempted to fix the issues identified by the Schick Report, like overly siloed departments and agencies, and a focus on the outputs of government rather than its outcomes. Think, for example, of judging success on the number of state houses built in a given year (an output), rather than whether homelessness was actually reducing (an outcome), or kilometres of tar seal laid (an output), rather than whether congestion was decreasing (an outcome). It might surprise you to know that through the NPM period, government departments had judged their performance on outputs, and even that had only been the case since the reforms – before that, good performance was a matter of process, making sure all the forms were filled in right, budgets allocated correctly, and everyone was following the rules.

Of course, a number of public employees, as individuals, had been focused on outcomes for a while (especially in areas like social work and health, where the outcome for the citizen that the public servant works with is really the point), but the Clark government’s approach did start giving public managers permission to ‘do what needed to be done’: with significantly larger budgets than the Bolger/Shipley administration had offered them.

Since National came into government in 2008, we’ve seen quite a bit of reaggregation of government departments such as the creation of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (currently serving half of cabinet and referred to as a ‘super-ministry’ for some time after it was established), a marked tightening of the public budget, and perhaps most significantly the introduction of the ten Better Public Service (BPS) targets as a model for continuing the focus on outcomes and working cross-departmentally. The adoption of BPS as a model was surprisingly innovative – a government voluntarily set out a range of criteria to judge its own performance by, outside the pressures of an election. Regardless of what you think of the goals themselves [2], the explicit identification of the ten priorities across the whole of government seems to have been effective in encouraging inter-departmental work and a focus on the effects of interventions rather than the activity. The other major innovation is Whānau Ora, for which the Māori Party is mostly responsible. The way Whānau Ora adopts a contracted, 3rd-party service provider approach could be considered NPM orthodoxy. However, its use of primarily non-profit community organisations is a somewhat innovative take on the basic theory.

What’s next for the public service?
It turns out, that’s a bloody good question. There’s not a heck of a lot of published policy on the future of the public service this election. It seems like it’s not ‘sexy’ enough to warrant its own announcements, so even if parties do have a stance on it, they’re only talking about it in private – weird, right? I mean, who doesn’t vote on the minutiae of public services policy? But you can start to piece together an impression of parties’ desired directions from their other policies and announcements to date. An important caveat, however, is that often the devil lies in the details – a promise to provide free public transport could mean provision through either public or private providers, and then the way private contracts are structured can change significantly.

National have, earlier this year, committed to a new line-up of BPS targets, and have practically no information (so far as this author can glean) on any proposed changes they would make to the public service, so are likely to continue down the path they’re on now. That’s, well, not so surprising, given that they’re the government, and you’d hope had gotten most of the reforms they wanted to make done by now – if you’re still tinkering in years 10-12 of your government, you really need to ask yourself what you’ve been doing. Budget 2017 supports this; aside from the short-term boost of funding to several areas this year and next, increases to Core Crown Expenditure are projected to return to very similar levels over the next five years as it has been since 2008, which averaged out to just under 4% each year [3]. That’s a pretty tight belt for the public service if you remember that the population grows about 1% each year, and inflation can be 1-2%.

Uniquely this election, the Labour Party has a specific ‘Public Services’ policy package, but haven’t made any kind of radical reform a significant part of their platform. Interestingly, the ‘Community and Volunteer Sector’ policy which falls under that heading talks about using contracted service provision, lamenting that government under National has failed to differentiate between community/voluntary organisations and businesses when seeking to contract out government service provisions. It then goes on to pledge that a Labour government will seek to strengthen the sector significantly, and “explore aspects of Whanau Ora which can be transferred into the community and voluntary sector”, which suggests the potential for an expanded and perhaps more formalised role for organisations in the sector in delivering services for the government with significant support. Aside from that specific set of policies, the Budget Responsibility Rules (BRR), jointly announced with the Green Party, limit Core Crown Expenditure to around 30% of GDP. Going by Budget 2017, this suggests a maximum rise in government spending by around 2-3% of GDP and therefore some reinvestment would be needed.

The Greens themselves have no direct policy on public sector reform and, well, that’s pretty much it. A number of their policies use market-based instruments to achieve a range of outcomes, such as their Carbon Tax Cut to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and their stance on other issues such as health or education (notably advocating for better direct funding and opposing use of privatisation or markets in those sectors, such as Charter Schools) shies well away from market-based ideology. Their most applicable recent announcement is the aforementioned BRR, which overall suggests the Greens are likely to follow Labour’s lead if elected.

Probably the most directly applicable policy announcement to public sector reform from New Zealand First this election has been their commitment to re-establish the New Zealand Forestry Service. Not, though, that they’re really re-establishing a forestry service – more it’s a statement that they’ll return to an old-school ‘command and control’ approach to timber exportation. The most interesting bit is the ruling out of taxing timber imports (a market mechanism, which would be in-line with the NPM approach). Overall though, their direction seems oddly mixed, insisting on preventing asset sales at both central and local government, but at least for local government insisting that rates revenue only pays for half of new expenditure. Largely though the somewhat old-fashioned ‘command and control’ approach seems to echo through a few parts of their policies.

Before anyone comments about the unfairness of not including some of the other minor parties here: the Maori Party is pretty clear on its desire to continue Whanau Ora. Again, having been in government the last nine years, if it wanted or was able to get anything past the National Party it would have by now. ACT's 'Privatise All Of The Things Now, Markets for Everyone' doesn't need much elaboration.

The choice this election, then, if you, like me, vote mostly on the future of the public service, is between a continuation of the tight-belted status quo, or a potentially more community-partnered public service, with a more comfortable budget. There’s a side dish of slightly old-fashioned government, if you’re an New Zealand First fan, but even then, that influence would be limited by their minor party status. It’s a little unclear as to what the parties of the left make of BPS as a model, but the innovative Whānau Ora is almost definitely sticking around.

Ben Ogilvie is currently working on a Masters degree in Public Policy at Victoria University of Wellington, and worked as a research assistant on the Deloitte State of the State report 2017. He has been a Green Party member since 2011 and plays D&D 5e as a level-3 Druid Gnome. His interests include: stopping climate change, dismantling systems of oppression, effective a-partisan public service, Mayer et al.’s framework for policy analysis, and dogs [Editor: Ben just lost ten friendship points, cats are the best].

[1] If, of course, you buy the narrative that government does make a difference to people’s lives, but if you don’t – you know this is a policy/politics blog, right? Why the hell are you here?
[2] Inb4 “reducing welfare numbers doesn’t mean getting people into work where are those people going” comments cos yes I know I’m a Green dude I’ve heard it all before chill out. I’m not judging the targets here, I’m judging their existence and role.
[3] See for tables showing that projection – I’m afraid you’ll have to do the math yourself.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

A Policy A Day: A Fiscal Apocalypse - Superannuation

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is written by Jason Armishaw

New Zealand Superannuation is a universal payment that every New Zealander is entitled to once they turn 65. This payment is given irrespective of the wealth, health status, or any other circumstances that might affect the individual. This payment is designed to give elderly people, particularly those without income, a payment so they don’t need to rely on their families or work in a way that is detrimental to their health. However, the ageing population is leading to a growing superannuation cost that has caused people to raise questions about its affordability in the long term.

While there has been some discussion this election on “fiscal holes”, superannuation is quickly becoming a fiscal apocalypse. Currently, we spend more on superannuation than we do on all other parts of social welfare combined. That means that every week, the government pays out more dollars to people over 65 than it pays out in dollars to anyone that receives any form of benefit payment. 17% of the Government budget is superannuation payments alone. To put some precise numbers on it we spend $13.7bn on Superannuation per year, while we spent $14bn on Education and $17.1bn on Health. Superannuation costs have been rising at approximately $1bn a year.

The New Zealand Treasury is required to project where the government books will be in 40 years in a “Long Term Fiscal Statement”. The most recent Long Term Fiscal Statement, released in 2016, outlined that if we don’t change superannuation it might swell to be as large as 50% of the government budget. At this level, the choice literally becomes “do we want public healthcare, public education, and social welfare, or do we want superannuation.” The ratio of kiwis over 65 to under 65 (who are able to pay taxes to support superannuation) is 1:5 right now, and this is expected to shrink to 1:2 by 2050. This means that half of the amount of tax our generation will pay will be given in cash to someone over 65.

There are a number of misconceptions about superannuation and it’s important to break all of them down.

Misconception 1 - This is a temporary problem caused by all the baby boomers
While baby boomers going through retirement is a contributing factor, the biggest driver of superannuation costs is the increase in life expectancy. When superannuation was first introduced in 1898, average life expectancy was only 54 for males. People that lived to 65 were quite old by that standard, and the government paid little in superannuation. Now, life expectancy is 83, meaning people spend (on average) 18 years, or a quarter of their lives, receiving superannuation.  That means that unless life expectancy drops, this problem is only going to get worse!

Misconception 2 – 2050? That’s ages away! We’ll fix it by then.
The reality is that we need to act now. You can’t just spring on a 64-year old that we are changing the age of eligibility to 70. People use superannuation to guide their retirement planning and savings decisions. This means that any decisions we make to superannuation need to be rolled out over a long period of time. There is realistically a 15-20 year lag to any changes in superannuation. If you add 6-9 years of relative inaction on the issues, 2050 starts to loom closely. Inaction by the Clark and Key governments means we need to make decisions quickly. Put simply, no politician can claim to represent young people or generational change if they do not support acting aggressively on this issue.

Misconception 3 – But don’t we have the Cullen Fund?
The New Zealand Superannuation Fund or “Cullen” Fund was created to be like a retirement savings account for the government; the government would contribute to the fund every year, that money would be invested, and we would then draw on it when baby boomers retired to cover their superannuation.

This idea would work if there was a temporary funding shortfall. but as we established earlier, this is an ongoing problem driven by people living longer. The Cullen fund might buy us time, but structural changes are still needed. Secondly, the cost of superannuation is projected to rise faster than the return rate of the fund, meaning the fund might not even operate effectively as a stopgap.

The final problem is that investing in the fund doesn’t make sense if the government is running deficit budgets (or increasing the amount of money that it borrows) such as when the country is in recession. Borrowing money to then save it is, by definition, not saving. Indeed, the current government paused its contributions to the Cullen Fund during the recession after the Global Financial Crisis. Some politicians have advocated for using the government’s low 3% borrowing rate to invest in the fund that returns 10% from their investments, but investing in the stock market is risky, and this is the equivalent of mortgaging your house to gamble in the stock market.

Party Policies
wants to raise the age of superannuation to 67 by 2040 (in small increments, six months a year from 2037). They also want to restart contributions to the Cullen fund when debt is less than 20% of GDP. This is minor tinkering on a long time frame. The biggest risk is that people then feel like this change “solves” the issue and are averse to more changes.

Labour and the Greens want to immediately restart contributions to the Cullen Fund, but have no policies in place to structurally change Superannuation. As stated above, the Cullen fund might buy us a bit of time, but more structural change is needed. Jacinda Ardern has stated that she would resign before she raised the age of superannuation.

New Zealand First wants to increase benefits to elderly. This is simply counterproductive. The Māori Party want a separate retirement age for Māori, as they have lower life expectancies and miss out on superannuation entirely. If Māori health outcomes improve, then this policy will worsen the superannuation crisis. If Māori health outcomes stagnate, then it would have no impact.

ACT want to start slowly raising the age of superannuation to 67 by 2032 (in small increments, two months a year from 2020). This policy is pretty aggressive, and people will struggle to change their retirement plans to meet this new rollout.

United Future’s policy is unchanged since the 2014 election, which we actually covered in A Policy A Day last time around. The Opportunities Party want to means-test superannuation, so that only poorer people who need state support receive it. This is one of the best practice potential solutions discussed below.

So what can work?
Means Testing
One of the big problems with superannuation is its universality; everyone gets it irrespective of how wealthy they are. People that earn millions a year and have large asset pools receive the same as someone who has relied on state support their whole life. Changing the universality of superannuation (along with other changes) so that only those who need it actually receive it would go a long way towards plugging the fiscal hole. However, changes to trust and companies law would be required to stop people being able to hide their wealth (though these are probably good changes anyway).

Tying the retirement age to life expectancy
As established, the biggest problem is that people are living longer, and thus receiving a larger number of superannuation payments over their lifetime. A strongly advocated idea is to tie the retirement age to life expectancy, meaning that on average everyone gets the same amount of superannuation. This would stop the massive cost increases in superannuation every year and keep cost fairly static.

Health Testing
Superannuation exists so that elderly people who are unable to work due to their age are provided for. This policy would remove superannuation and expand the health and disabilities benefits to compensate, treating elderly similar to any other kiwi that has a health condition. One counter-argument is that the health and disabilities processes are dehumanising, though this is perhaps actually an argument for humanising health and disabilities recipients.

Overall, if left unchecked, superannuation is going to destroy any possibility for investment in social services in New Zealand. Though we are not alone, most of the OECD have ageing populations and all of them need to think carefully about how they are going to fund their retirements in the future. Compared to the rest of the world, we are in an enviable fiscal position, but our leaders need to act boldly and quickly to ensure that remains the case.

Jason Armishaw is a graduate in Law and Economics from the University of Auckland, he has worked across the public and private sector at a number of institutions including the New Zealand Treasury and Deloitte. He currently works at a management consulting firm in Australia.

[1] Recent migrants have some requirements for living in New Zealand, and coming to New Zealand before a particular age.

Monday 18 September 2017

A Policy A Day: Public Transport Incentives

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is written by Bhen Goodsir

Public Transport is an enormously important aspect of city life. Public transport adds a lot to a city by reducing congestion and pollution, as well as providing social benefits. How public transport reduces congestion and pollution is reasonably obvious - public transport is much more space and fuel efficient than cars, and the more people who use public transport, the fewer cars there are on the road.

But the social benefits are also important. The Gold Card has been a hugely popular programme. In 2005, Winston Peters promised, and delivered, free off peak public transport for all New Zealanders over the age of 65. It’s the sort of thing that can easily be described as an “election bribe” – and it probably was – but the reality is that public transport provides independence to many people who aren’t able to drive or aren’t able to afford a car. Public transport improves social cohesion by ensuring almost everyone can get around the city.

In this election and the last, the Green Party has proposed to extend the free public transport offered in New Zealand through a youth equivalent of the Gold Card, called the Green Card.

The economics of public transport are a little different to the typical supply and demand economics that govern the purchase of a chocolate bar at the corner dairy. Public transport requires a huge amount of up-front investment – often funded in part by the government. While each passenger pays a fee, the marginal cost of each passenger is very low. By the time a person gets on a bus, the cost of the bus and the staff to run it have already been incurred. A bus with 5 people on it and one with 45 people on it cost roughly the same amount to run.

In New Zealand, much of our public transport system is either run or funded by the government in one way or another. In 2013, ticket fares only accounted for about 46% of the actual cost of running public transport. This means that the real cost of “free off-peak transport” isn’t necessarily as high as we might think. Most of the time it means buses that are already running could just be fuller.

This doesn’t mean we can overlook cost though. The Gold Card costs about $80 million a year. The Green Party argues that it’s pretty good value for money. Their ‘block of cheese’ metaphor highlights that $80m is the same cost as 1km of the National Party’s Roads of National Significance. The slight problem with this example is that the roading cost is much more of a one-off [Editor: arguable, maintenance is a significant cost too], whereas the cost of subsidised public transport must be paid every year.

“Off Peak” Travel
Both the Gold Card and the proposed Green Card come with a catch - the free public transport is only in off peak hours. That means that before 9am and between 3pm-6.30pm, you still have to pay for your ticket. There are a couple of good reasons for this policy.

In Auckland, nearly 70% of the roughly 255,000 daily public transport trips are taken during the ‘peak’ hours. This means that the network has to have enough capacity to carry nearly 50,000 people an hour at 8am – even though at 10am it will only be carrying about 7500 people an hour. The result is that during the peak hours, buses and trains are pushed to their capacity, while in the off-peak hours they run their route nearly empty or sit completely empty in the depot. This is not the most efficient use of our public transport infrastructure.

Programmes like the Gold Card and the Green Card encourage some passengers to travel in the off-peak times, and make the network more efficient by spreading demand more evenly across the day. By increasing the efficiency of the network, the government can provide more trips to people at a lower cost. Students and superannuants are particularly good demographics to target with these offers because they tend to be more price sensitive – since they have less income – and more flexible – since they don’t typically work a 9-to-5 workday.

**Best guess based on figures provided in Greens Public Transport Policy
***Hypothetical Example

However, the graph above shows that while the Green Card would go some way towards making the use of our public transport network more efficient, the impact might not be that large.

Free transport for under 19s
The second part of the policy from the Greens is for free public transport for under 19s (U19s) – and this time there’s no catch. Demographic information on the users of public transport in New Zealand is fairly hard to come by. Young people are much more likely to use public transport than older people, but with publicly available information, it’s hard to say exactly what proportion of public transport trips are taken by U19s.

We can get an idea, however, by looking at the graph below, which shows the % of daily revenue and patronage by the hour. The spike in patronage at about 3pm is all the students heading home from school and paying lower fares. So we know that school students represent a sizeable percentage of the public transport trips.

Unlike university students, U19s cannot be as flexible with their transport. Generally, they need to be at school by 9:00 am and they leave at 3:00 pm which means they are using public transport in peak hours. The Greens estimate that 15% more U19s will use public transport, and 30% more university students. Given there are many more U19s than university students – these effects are likely to cancel one another out. Taking the policy as a whole, there is unlikely to be much change in overall network efficiency.

The Green card is just one public transport policy among many. There is currently a lot of work underway to extend the capacity of the Auckland network by creating a city rail loop. There are also proposals, in various forms, to extend the rail network to the Airport. While offering off-peak transport might help keep the overall costs down, the real reason for the Greens policy is to improve affordability for students, families and people with disabilities.

Public transport is most important for two broad groups of people: those who can’t drive, and those who can’t afford to drive. In the first group, there are children, the elderly, and people with some disabilities, and in the second there are students, large or low-income families, and beneficiaries.

The Green Card policy does a good job of extending the current gold card programme to cover a much wider range of people. For people in both groups, affordable public transport means they can do the everyday things of life like going to work, getting to school, and visiting family. But convenient and affordable transport can improve people’s lives in a range of other ways.

It’s expensive to be poor. It doesn’t matter if Countdown has bread for $1 a loaf if you can’t afford to catch the bus there. If you have to rely on the corner dairy for your groceries then it becomes much harder to provide for your family. A return trip to the supermarket on the bus could easily cost someone $5 at current prices. Cars are not the answer either. Expensive cars require loans – and the high interest that comes with them – and cheap cars require repairs, which can lead to sudden costs and potentially more loans.

How could we do better?
Without a doubt, Paris has a world class public transport system. With the metro and a network of trains, buses, and trams, more than 5 billion trips are taken in Paris each year. That’s compared to 12 million in Auckland. After accounting for population size, 6 times more trips are taken in Paris per capita. New Zealand has a long way to go before we can achieve anything like that level of public transport usage.

However, Paris does have some interesting ideas we could start using now. Most people in Paris pay for public transport with a monthly or annual pass allowing unlimited public transport. For adults, this works out to about NZD$120 a month, and for students just under $50 a month. A similar pass in Auckland is twice as expensive, and at least one and a half times as expensive in Wellington.

Paris also offers ‘Solidarity’ passes to people who, for a variety of reasons, don’t or can’t work. In some cases, these discounts also extend to family members. A solidarity pass means that Paris is standing by the members of its community that are already marginalised by ensuring they can participate in public life.

Students are a key constituency for the Greens, so it’s no surprise that they have been targeted for free public transport. Similarly, tackling child poverty has been a key priority for the Greens, and free public transport for U19s means that every child can afford to get to school. But the policy also does nothing to support the parents of these children. Free public transport could open up opportunities for better employment, or cheaper housing, that would mean that low-income parents could provide better lives for their families.

The Green Card would make public transport much more affordable for students, people with disabilities, and families, and it would reduce congestion and pollution. It’s good politics, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good policy. There are many ways that the same outcomes can be achieved. In order to make the most impact, public transport subsidies and fare structures need to be better targeted to meet the needs of those who rely on it most. 

Bhen Goodsir recently completed his law degree at the university of Auckland and is currently studying at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. In his spare time, he listens to many podcasts and sends Snapchats of dogs he sees to his friends. He tweets at @bhenelliott.

Sunday 17 September 2017

A Policy A Day: Mental Healthcare

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is by Lauren Watson

If you are at risk and need help, please contact one of these wonderful organisations who do so much and can really help you through:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757
Youthline: 0800 376 633

The Problem
This year has really highlighted our shameful quality of mental health support. In May, the Public Service Association released a survey that found 60 percent of New Zealanders thought the government wasn’t doing enough for mental health. In 2013, suicide was the third-leading cause of premature death in New Zealand after heart disease and lung cancer, and New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the world.

Currently, people who are struggling with mental health are directed towards their GP. There, they can discuss their symptoms, be treated, and establish ways to manage their issues. Some District Health Boards have targeted specialist Community Mental Health Services, but you normally need a referral from a GP. University students may have access to limited but funded counselling services. Private psychiatrists are also available for those that can afford them.

However, these current access points have the same issues as most health systems in Aotearoa: accessibility and capacity. There aren’t enough GPs, the services they are meant to refer you to suffer from a severe lack of counsellors, and there is a massive underfunding of most mental health services. Support has not kept up with need, with an increase of 60 percent in mental health service users but only a 28 percent increase in funding since National came to power. The problem is exacerbated by poverty; when people cannot afford the copayment (the fee to see a GP), the loss of time at work or school, or cannot get transport.

Additionally, our social expectations around mental health have a strong influence. It is much harder for guys to go to the GP to talk about how they are feeling, in a country where men are not encouraged to express their feelings openly. This leads us to the much higher rates of suicide amongst men (double the rate of women), despite women having double the rate of (reported) depression. These issues don’t operate in a vacuum, and there are a multitude of risk factors that increase the likelihood of someone to commit suicide. Those with the highest levels of deprivation (based on the things that households lack) are significantly more at risk of suicide.

The Government
In terms of what policy is needed in order to improve the mental health of our communities, like most policy questions, there is no duct tape to fix it. Rising mental health issues in New Zealand are a symptom of many underlying problems across the facets of our society. The Ministry of Health’s new suicide prevention strategy is yet to be fully released, but the suggested actions from their hui have been:

Fostering connectedness
This is because most mental health problems are caused or exacerbated by a loss of support, whether that be from family or the community. So, trying to increase those bonds in communities decreases rates of depression. This is the hardest action point to achieve considering it’s so vague. Targeted programs such as getting groups of teenagers together outside of the pressures of school can be helpful for building communities and can target specific groups, such as young Māori men who are at greater risk of committing suicide. This leads in particularly well to the next action point.

Developing mentoring programs
The notion behind this is straightforward in that it helps ensure a safety net for two groups of teenagers going through transition periods: year 9s coming into high school and year 13s who are moving out of their high school communities. Mentoring programs can be utilised to ensure that both groups build relationships of support, which are key to establish networks that people can reach out to. However, the quality of these programs will depend on the school, and schools that have high bullying rates may not think that this is appropriate as it may be a way for students to be isolated and picked on.

Training parents on how to talk to their children about suicide, depression, and self-harm
Whānau is another protective factor when it comes to mental illness, so building capacity within families is crucial for helping teenagers communicate the different problems they may face in their lifetimes. However, this intervention will only benefit those that have strong family networks and will increase the disparities between those with and without parents that can take time to explain these concepts.

Teaching resilience and coping skills in schools.
This is another tough one to implement considering teachers already have so much to work into their curriculums. Additionally, as with most universal systems, the ones that need to learn are the least likely to be the ones that pick up the skills, particularly in a classroom setting where peer pressure is at work. However, when put in conjunction with a mentoring system you could better focus these messages to those that are most at risk.

The Parties
To be brutally honest, no one term government is going to fix our mental health services. Jacinda cannot wave her magic wand and hope for instant improvements, and National have shown that in their three terms the mental health outcomes have only gotten worse. Both major parties have similar policies regarding increasing funding both to DHBs and nationwide health spending, but this is a long-term issue. We need more GPs so that wait times for second mental health appointments aren’t after 8 weeks.

NZ First want to conduct a mental health inquiry, Labour wants to reestablish the Mental Health Commission, and the Green party wants to do both. The Green Party also recently announced that they would provide free counselling to all under 25-year-olds, part of a $263 million youth mental health plan. The Māori Party have strong policy support for mental health reform, particularly because their constituents and communities are heavily affected by it. National want to continue what they’re doing and take a social investment approach to mental health, although they have acknowledged their shortcomings during the Budget proposal at the start of the year.

Ultimately the key theme for the political parties is: more. Only through the funding of successful programs within schools like mentorship, reaching out to parents, and training teachers to communicate mental illness symptoms and coping mechanisms, can we start to address this issue where it is worst. At the same time, we must introduce interventions that minimise the social disillusionment that some groups face, bringing communities together to create better support structures for people to fall back on.

Regardless, the policy of any incoming government needs to address this as soon as possible. The more we undercut the little effectiveness that we have in our mental health services, the more suicides we will have in our communities.

Lauren Watson a second year Law and Health science conjoint majoring in population health at the University of Auckland. She is a volunteer for UN Youth and also writes for Craccum.

Saturday 16 September 2017

A Policy A Day: Inclusive Education

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We're exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is written by Etta Bollinger

I have two clear memories of the lead up to starting school. The first is me asking my Mum what school is like, and my chief concern, will she be there? Even at five, I had some idea that school was going to present particular challenges to me.

I’m a twin, so I was lucky enough to be facing the momentous transition hand-in-hand with my best friend. This fortified me, I think. It felt normal, logical we’d done kindy together and now this. This was also logical to my parents that I should have the same educational experience as my sister.

The second memory is my wheelchair. It is bright mauve and comes fitted with a school bag which has fish on it and hangs neatly off the handlebars at the back. Perfectly, five year old-sized.

As a disabled student, starting school was more than just introducing me to classroom learning - it introduced me to a world of teacher-aides, Individual Education Plans, ORS funding and, more generally, attempting to strike a balance between the demands of my disability and my academic needs. This is a balance I’ve been negotiating ever since.

I began school in 1997, when Special Education 2000 was first being implemented; a policy which newly mandated my inclusion in the classroom alongside able-bodied peers. The policy aspired to be world-leading and aimed for “a world-class inclusive education system that [would] provide learning opportunities of equal quality to all students.”

I grew up knowing I was entitled to occupy this space despite the frustrations that came with that. I now hold a Bachelor's Degree, which according to the 2013 Census places me in the mere 12% of disabled people who do. I have always seen education as a key to my success in life and to my broader citizenship.

This small statistic, however, speaks volumes about the barriers still present for disabled people in education. It also has wider ramifications for our lives and is particularly reflected in our low employment rates.

So, as a disabled voter looking at the Education Policies, I am looking for answers to this question: Am I included?

The Policy
The incumbent Government’s website focuses on resourcing, in terms of teacher aide hours and sign language resources for deaf and hearing impaired students. Promises like this can be read as positives in and of themselves as resourcing continues to be a major barrier. However, decisions of this ilk have the disability community feeling that Peter is being robbed to pay Paul.

For example, policy based on evidence, that early intervention is critical to the success of disabled students, has seen resources taken away from the 18-21 year old bracket, leaving them without the extra support for the significant transition into adulthood and life beyond high school they are facing.
The Government has also been critiqued by Opposition Parties - The Green Party, Labour and New Zealand First - for lack of resourcing and support given to people with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorder. People with these disabilities report thriving in a context which caters to their needs. These parties collaborated on an Inquiry into the educational experience of people with these learning disabilities. The inquiry found that this experience hugely different from case to case.

It stated that: “Schools are inconsistent and variable in their approach to supporting students with learning support needs. The capability and capacity of teachers, teacher aides, and other specialist support providers varies widely between schools.” With regards to Inclusive Education, it recommended that inclusive practice be strengthened, and these recommendations stood out to me.

“We recommend that the Government task the Ministry of Education to extend its promotion of inclusive education information and resources to support teachers, including those who may be teaching students with needs arising from dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorder.

We recommend that the Government task the Ministry of Education to develop policy on learning support needs to explicitly explain what best practice for inclusion is, and how monitoring and professional development will support this policy in all schools.”

They speak to the need to level the playing field in education, and that this is possible. We - disabled people - are united in having needs outside of the standard, the average, the mainstream, and we are united in being faced with taking individual responsibility learning in a for a system without space for us. There is a sense that we are having to compete among ourselves for the limited resources available.

Working Together
Disabled students will always have a harder time under policies which individualise learning and success. This is because our success so often rests on having networks of support.
We thrive on being educated as whole people with strengths, weaknesses. We thrive on the ability to contribute to our schools and the wider community. We thrive when high aspirations are set for us and we are supported to see them through.

In writing the above I am aware of how much of it also applies to the able-bodied and typically functioning peers we learn alongside. The way that five year old me should aspire to an education of the same calibre as her sister’s and vice versa. The way in which I needed an education which saw me as having an impairment but not as being less able. What student doesn’t want their whole and complex self, supported and engaged in learning?

This is an aspiration we have had for my entire education. Yet inclusion is still piecemeal. A case where being present in the classroom doesn’t ensure your needs are met. A case where not everyone can be assured of a smooth transition into post-secondary school life. And a case where not everyone is supported to make a contribution to their community. But this doesn’t have to be the reality. For me, it feels like an issue worth voting on.

Etta Bollinger is a writer, student, and activist. Her teenage self assumed she would never write about disability but her current self enjoys it. She writes regularly for Salient and has also been published as a poet in Kiwi and Australian journals. Her plays have been staged in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, and she has been an occasional spokesperson for Education For All.