Xmas hope lies in stroppy Copenhagen protest

Over the past 16 years I’ve taken my kids away camping in the week before Xmas. I detest the frenetic, consumerist hype of the season, the cloying Xmas carols piped to crowds of exasperated shoppers with tired toddlers and the in-your-face push to spend, spend, spend. Add in Auckland’s daily traffic chaos in the growing heat of summer and if there’s a purgatory on earth then this is it.

The chance to holiday away from the rush has mental and financial benefits while keeping the kids occupied in sparsely populated camping grounds beside beautiful beaches is the best bonus.

If you can’t get away this year then try to plan for it next year. It comes with a high recommendation for families with young kids.

Most of us know we will overspend and overindulge at this time of year but the inevitable momentum of the season propels us onwards to a host of family responsibilities and expectations.

Most kids are overindulged. Gifts from parents and extended family members can overwhelm them with junk. For many years now plastic crap and cheap rubbish have replaced the solid treasured toys of previous generations. So much of the stuff that looks good in its gaudy shrink plastic wrapping turns out to be less than robust and lasts just long enough to disappoint.

I hope this doesn’t sound Scrooge-like. Xmas should be the family highlight of the year but it’s become more a celebration of consumption.

I wonder what Jesus Christ, whose birthday Xmas celebrates, would have thought of the whole scene. I think he’d be avoiding the frenzy and living the words of his Sermon on the Mount. He’d be spending his time (and his money) with the lonely, the marginalised and the poor.

This year most of my gifts will buy ducks, cement, mangroves, water, goats, chickens and seeds for families in overseas development projects. They are gifts you purchase through Christchurch-based Christian World Service for your family members to send to CWS project partners in Timor Leste, Uganda, the Philippines, India and other places in the developing world. What better gift could we give our own kids before we even begin to consider how it will transform lives in other places? If we want children to develop good human values of generosity, selflessness and compassion this is a good way to start. So why not make the first gift you buy your kids and other family members some ducks ($15) or a goat ($30)? It also means you can stop worrying about buying something for those who have everything and what’s more it’s also they are the only gifts in the marketplace which come with a tax deductible receipt.

If you want to follow up then check out the CWS special gift programme on http://www.cws.org.nz

And how about a gift voucher to a child saying you have given the gift of a food parcel on their behalf to a New Zealand family living in poverty. Your local foodbank will be grateful. The Auckland City Mission newsletter says their emergency food parcels issued this year are up 52%. I think it’s the first gift Jesus Christ would have given.

If you buy children’s books then why not look for a book with a message that matches the supposed values of the season? I’m not sure what’s around for kids these days but I recall a delightful story about Xmas for an impoverished family from Poland. It was called Just Enough is Plenty and the story matches the message of its title. Unfortunately we should by now have our own home-grown stories with the same theme, given the level of endemic poverty in New Zealand.

Meanwhile our government is preparing an important Xmas gift for our children as well. John Key is heading to Copenhagen to join with other governments to come to an agreement on climate change. Whatever emerges will help decide what environmental legacy our generation will be leaving for our kids.

All the signs are that it will most likely be a weak, self-interested, short-sighted approach to global warming which will leave a badly crippled planet for them to inherit.

Having further watered down Labour’s already inadequate legislation, New Zealand at Copenhagen is siding with the developed world which is striving to continue its own unsustainable emissions and shift more climate responsibility onto developing countries.

The protests on the streets at Copenhagen will help balance the heavy pressure being wielded by the corporate sector who use governments as a cover to push their growth-at-all-costs agenda.

We can’t rely on John Key. A stroppy, successful Copenhagen protest is the best gift we can hope for our kids this Xmas.


TVNZ has retarded attitude to Paul Henry

I wasn’t going to write about Paul Henry. I didn’t see the point in saying the obvious about his mocking of UK singer Susan Boyle as a “retard”. But the failure of Television New Zealand to act on its own behalf (and our behalf because it is a state broadcaster) and deal with him is deplorable.

We are now two weeks after the event and there’s still no sign of criticism from the TVNZ leadership for Henry’s boorish behaviour. And no apology from Henry either. It’s been left to his colleague Peter Williams to issue a public criticism. Williams told the audience at last Thursday’s Attitude Awards, to honour New Zealanders with disabilities, that “I completely disassociate myself from Paul Henry. I only wish he could be at nights like tonight, to be inspired by people with amazing attitudes.”

Henry’s comments have been excused by saying Boyle suffered oxygen deprivation at birth and was therefore technically retarded. But Henry went much further, saying “here’s the really interesting revelation: she is in fact retarded….And if you look at her carefully, you can make it out”.

Retard is now used as a broad term of abuse from the days when it was used to describe a mental deficiency. But it was Henry’s mocking use of the term which was offensive and obnoxious. He laughingly used it as a term of ridicule and thought it was all a joke.

He did the same earlier this year mocking a woman guest on his show for having what he described as a moustache.

These are the sorts of things one might expect to hear from immature adolescents in a school playground. Why should we have to put up with it from a host on broadcast television?

In all likelihood TVNZ has given Henry a nod and a wink and encouraged him to be a bit “edgy” and “push the boundaries” in a pitch for his programme to be the breakfast television equivalent of talk-back radio.

Whether or not that’s true the latest Henry incident marks a new low point for TVNZ. It’s hard to see it as other than another marker in how far the broadcaster has slipped into terminal decline.

I watch very little television and can’t remember the last time I watched TV1 or TV2. They have been used as a political football by governments for a long time and it shows.

Most recently Labour gave TVNZ the impossible job, via so-called Charter obligations, to be both a high quality local programmer while at the same time providing a dividend to the government through advertising income as a commercial broadcaster. To cut a long story short this was a failure and the demand for dividends from successive governments has led TVNZ in a race to the bottom as it pitches lower and lower. The latest Henry saga is the lowest watermark yet for this once impressive organisation.

Meanwhile the government is using the recession as an excuse to slash public spending and is taking the axe once more to TVNZ with reports the broadcaster needs to make $30 million more in saving after it cut 80 staff positions in March following a $25 million shortfall in advertising revenue. It’s a fair bet that after the next election the National Government will move to privatise all or most of TVNZ and it’s hard to see there will be much of a public outcry. Is there anything worth saving from this broadcaster we could once have felt some pride in? I don’t think it’s salvageable as a state broadcaster.

Any self-respecting organisation would have taken Henry off air till the whole issue was dealt with. With his past transgressions I’d have expected him to have been cast adrift permanently a long time back.

Instead of acting on its own behalf TVNZ says it will wait for formal complaints to be lodged and will then follow through with a process to decide if Henry’s behaviour was offensive and warrants further action.

It seems TVNZ is beginning to reflect the standards of the cheap reality TV shows it broadcasts which celebrate the ritual humiliation and degradation of competitors in subject areas as diverse as cooking, survivalist camps, pop shows and modelling. We are seeing more and more extreme versions of these shows as they seek to outdo each other and win the ratings battle on behalf of corporate advertisers.

So instead of working to provide quality television TVNZ is looking for cheap distractions to keep viewers watching between the adds. Paul Henry fits the bill.


Lots of good reasons to support this $15 petition

Last Saturday I spent three hours at Auckland’s Grey Lynn Festival collecting signatures for Unite Union’s $15 minimum wage campaign.

The aim is to get 300,000 signatures for a citizen’s initiated referendum which asks the question “Should the adult minimum wage be raised in steps over the next three years, starting with an immediate rise to $15 per hour, until it reaches 66% of the average total hourly earnings as defined in the Quarterly Employment Survey?” (For the record the adult minimum wage is currently $12.50 an hour with the minimum for 16 and 17 year olds set at 80% of the adult minimum for their first 200 hours or three months employment)

In general I’m not a fan of CIRs. The experiences here and in places such as California have been negative with contradictory outcomes being common.

However unlike most previous New Zealand referenda this one asks an unambiguous question and if adopted would do more to close the wage gap with Australia than any of the pontificating from the Don Brash-led taskforce.

It’s a popular petition. Nine out of ten agree immediately and sign without a second thought – the issue resonates immediately. Instinctively people know New Zealand workers are well behind where they should be and are still losing ground.

The reactions of the 10% who won’t sign are interesting. One man told me the problem was too much taxation and politicians were wasting public money. There’s always an element of truth in politicians wasting public money – Rodney Hide comes to mind – but when I asked him why it was that countries with the highest taxation had the highest standard of living he exploded. “Liar, liar” he fumed. I gave the example of the Scandinavian countries where taxes are high but services in areas such as health and education are the best in the world. Confronted with an uncomfortable challenge to his prejudices he became more agitated. “Liar, liar, liar” was all he could splutter loudly and continuously while his partner signed the petition. I made a last attempt to break through with reason but he was a lost cause. His partner apologised as she handed back the clipboard…

Several people I spoke to were small business owners who employed staff. A woman dealing in cut flowers said the profit margins were too small and raising the minimum wage could put her out of business. However it turned out she paid her staff $18 an hour and agreed $15 wasn’t an excessive ask for any employer. She agreed the problem for employers would be greatly reduced if the minimum moved in all businesses at the same time.

One young man shrugged off the petition. He said he’d started out being paid $7 an hour and because he did it hard others after him should do the same – he wasn’t prepared to lift a finger or engage in a wider discussion.

Another woman quizzed me at length about the effect raising the minimum would have. She said it might make it harder for young people to get jobs. I told her this was predicted by employers several years back when the campaign to raise the minimum to $12 an hour (from $9.25) was launched. It didn’t happen. Youth employment actually increased throughout the time Labour moved to $12 over three years. We agreed that this could change in an economic downturn but the country is coming out of recession (so we are told) and by the time the referendum is held unemployment should be decreasing steadily.

Only one person said to me he thought “the market” should set pay rates and there should be no minimum. Roger Douglas would have been proud – here was a true apostle. He didn’t stay to explain how a family should be expected to survive with a breadwinner earning perhaps $5 an hour at times of high unemployment. Already we have too many working families living in poverty.

Another said she’ll never sign a petition again after she signed one and ended up on a mailing list. I sympathised but she moved off before I could ask why she would let someone else’s behaviour limit her democratic participation.

But what surprised me most was the depth of feeling which accompanied the willing signatures. About 200 signed my sheets in three hours which I thought was pretty good despite knowing another 250,000 are needed before May 1st next year.

Getting enough signatures will depend on how many people across the country can help out. If 1000 people commit to getting 300 signatures each we will get there. The union is calling such people working-class heroes. Indeed!