Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Election Survey: Progressives Party response

Below's response is from Jim Anderton's Progressive party, and you can find a full index of candidate, and party, replies here.

The Questions & Answers
Question 1. What do you believe is currently the single biggest issue facing New Zealand women, and how would you like to address it if you are elected?
While there is no one single issue facing women there are some which stand out as highly significant. The Progressive Party identifies the need to maintain a proper balance between work and family commitments, and the importance of full employment as foremost. As far as the former is concerned the Progressives have in particular initiated the successful implementation of four weeks minimum leave for all, and paid parental leave, both of which have contributed significantly to lifting the position of women in our society. As part of the Labour Progressive government we have also been instrumental in reducing unemployment to some of the lowest levels seen in over two decades, introduced twenty hours paid preschool access for many families, and established a right to pursue flexible working hours.

Question 2. New Zealand women are paid, on average, over $300 a week less than men, and the difference is worse for Maori and Pacific Island women. What do you propose as a first step towards closing the gender pay gap?
Steps taken to date to encourage the voluntary reduction of this gap have clearly proved ineffective overall, and the Progressive Party believes the time is now ripe to review the need for reinstating pay equity legislation which has proved its effectiveness in restricted public sector circumstances in the past, and which was repealed by an incoming National administration as one of its first acts in 1991.

Question 3. Do you think NZ's current approach to reproductive rights (abortion, contraception etc) is correct? (Yes or No or No Answer, please)
If not, what changes would you want to make?

However we need to add that the debate over abortion, which has been going on now for some decades, raises a host of complex issues. That debate has never been able to reconcile the contrary positions involved because it entails moral and ethical issues that cannot be the subject of compromise or negotiated solutions in the ordinary political sense, or settled in any final sense by counting votes.

The Progressive Party stance on this issue is based on the recognition that pregnancy termination is a highly personal issue. We support choice because we do not want to return to the days of highly dangerous illegal backstreet abortions and consider that the only real alternative to this is a free, legal and accessible service, and the provision of free contraceptives. We give our highest priority, however, to minimising the need for abortion as an option and place our primary emphasis on education and a responsible approach to human relationships.

The Progressives also believe that the improvement of the economic and social security of New Zealanders, and the achievement of full employment, to all of which we also give a very high priority, will lead to a considerable reduction in the current pressures which can lead to an abortion decision, and consequently will have a significant impact on the numbers of those seeking such interventions.

On the associated question of abortions for girls without parental knowledge, the Progressive Party considers that on the rare occasions when a girl under the age of sixteen has an abortion without parental knowledge or consent this is on the basis of professional medical and clinical judgement. We prefer that such judgements should be made at that level and we would not support an amendment proposed by some lobby groups to the Care of Children Act giving parents a right of veto in such circumstances.

Question 4. The police and the courts do not work in preventing violence against women. What other government actions would you take to ensure women can live without fear?
We contest your contention that ‘the police and courts do not work in preventing violence against women’. The record of both has improved significantly over the last decade. However, that said we agree that the level of violence against women in our society is far too high and that we need more resources devoted to this area. In particular we support the current “It’s Not OK’ campaign and would like to see this extended.

Question 5. Those who do the caring work in our society, paid and unpaid, are often the least recognized and the lowest paid, and they work the longest hours. What do you see as the priority to address these issues for those caring for our sick, our elderly and our children?
The Progressive Party encourages workers in the care professions to take advantage of current industrial legislation (which replaced the pernicious Employment Contracts Act) to organise and bargain collectively through their unions to ensure that their pay and conditions accurately reflect the high value of the work they undertake. We also have encouraged the development and availability of opportunities for professional training and certification in this field for those workers engaging in it.

Question 6. The Ministry of Health has recently launched a campaign to encourage breastfeeding and is now recommending that babies be breastfeed to at least one year old. What do you think the government could do to ensure that every woman who wants to breast feed can?
The Progressive Party supports the encouragement of breast feeding and endorses the Ministry of Health campaign

Question 7. What single measure do you think our political organizations could take to better encourage young women to be involved and take on leadership positions in our communities?
There is no one single measure which will ensure that young women develop into leadership roles in our society to the same extent that men play these roles now. It requires a spectrum of encouragements and initiatives. We instance, however, the importance of role models, and the encouragement of self esteem in education. See also our response regarding pay equity above.

Question 8. Do you see domestic violence as an issue for women, for men, or for all New Zealanders? (Women, or Men, or all New Zealanders please)
If elected, what strategies would you like to pursue to eliminate domestic violence?
This is a problem for all New Zealanders to address, as individuals, as members of families, of communities, and the formal legal, NGO support, and policing structures. See our response to question 4

Question 9. Successive governments have effectively cut the Domestic Purposes Benefit. Do you believe people raising children alone should have sufficient financial support from the state so that they do not need to go to work until they believe that is the best choice for their family? (Yes or No or No Answer, please)
Yes. It is plain common sense that those who are raising children alone should have not only sufficient income to enable them to do so, but should have other income and financial support, such as access to free child care, tax advantages through social transfers, and so on. It is also important that they have ready access to high quality public health care and education. Children are our future whether raised by single parents or both parents and we cheat that future if we fail to ensure that they get the best chances early in life.

Question 10. Women do the vast majority of cooking and shopping, and increases in food prices are a burden borne disproportionately by women. What do you think our government can or should do to ensure that everyone has access to good food?
This is a complex set of questions rolled into one and so is not easily answered. It has been one of the objectives of the Progressives and their predecessors in government to deal with the legacy of the unacceptable and widening gap between incomes in New Zealand which we inherited from the administrations of the eighties and nineties. Recent research suggests that we are making some headway. But we are also aware that there are no easy answers to this conundrum

When it comes to basic prices, there are two ways of proceeding. Because major domestic budget items such as food and fuel reflect overseas prices for our produce or what we have to pay for imported commodities, and because the prices are effectively set by private producers, one way to deal with this would be by micro regulation and control. This would entail the use of such devices and instruments as price control, food subsidies, differential sales taxes and others. But these have proved to be not particularly effective blunt economic instruments in the past requiring a measure of regulatory control over economic activities which is not acceptable to most New Zealanders in our contemporary economy. Thus, although it is a theoretical option it isn’t a politically practical one.

The second is to create a macro-climate in which by reducing the income gap we ensure that when prices for basic items fluctuate (as they are bound to do) this does not automatically create hardship for those on restricted domestic budgets. This is the course we in the Progressive Party favour and it is one in which the government has scored some major successes in the past nine years in our view.

Some of the facts in that regard are compelling. For example although the consumer price index has moved by some 20% over that period the average wage has moved by about 33.7% and the minimum hourly wage rate by more than 70%. The establishment of a ‘floor’ for those in receipt of national super and regular movement with the wage index has resulted in those payments increasing by some 28% over a similar period.

Add to this some of the targeted social transfer payments introduced by the government – major ones are the Working for Families relief package, and the under-writing of GP visits and prescription medicines, as well as income-related rents for state house tenants, together with a significant lift in the threshold of the ‘rates rebate scheme’ – and you will see that we are making significant progress in closing the income gap. We note that the Working for Families package in particular has, according to research conducted by the Ministry of Social Development, lifted fifty thousand children out of the poverty trap.

In the last Budget we took a further step in the form of some tax relief for those on lower and middle incomes to counter the effects of what is known as fiscal drag by lifting taxation thresholds to take account of rising absolute and relative wage and salary levels. There is a limit on such tax relief, of course, because it is constrained by the need to maintain social services such as those noted above. Those who say that there can be further tax cuts without affecting such services are, at best, misleading the public.

Finally we would point to a major advance and that is the reduction of the unemployment rate to close to its lowest level, at about 3.8%, for more than two decades. Our policies have led to the creation of something like a thousand new jobs week in and week out for the last eight years. By ensuring that there are fewer and fewer people living on a benefit we progressively lift people out of the poverty trap.

We wouldn’t say that we are out of the woods yet in closing the gap between better and less well off in this country to somewhere nearer where it used to be by any means, but I think that we have made a good deal of progress and if returned to government we intend to continue to move down that track.

Question 11. Do you have any further comments that you wish to make about the role of women in our society? Please feel free to share your thoughts here.
New Zealand has come a long way since the proud day in 1893 when we led the world in introducing universal adult suffrage. We were the world’s first democratic nation and we have retained our fundamentally egalitarian ethos since. But we have quite a way to go before we can say that women can take their place as fully equal citizens, and the Progressive Party is committed to seeing that happen.

No comments: