Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Report on NCW's Akl politicians' evening

Last night I went to a political panel for members of the Auckland Branch of National Council of Women.*

This politicians' evening  featured representatives from the four major parties, plus Mana, who had been sent in advance four questions determined by the branch at a previous meeting, on specific topics which may or may not become apparent as this post progresses.  There were no questions from the floor.  I'm going to aim to keep this report pretty neutral, so there shouldn't be any unexpected sarcasm.

The politicians attending were:
  • National - Claudette Hauiti - candidate for Mangere, 62 on National's list
  • Labour - Carol Beaumont - candidate for Maungakiekie, current List MP, 22 on Labour's list
  • Greens - Sue Kedgley - current List MP, retiring this year
  • ACT - Kath McCabe - candidate for Maungakiekie, no. 9 on ACT's list
  • Mana - Sue Bradford - likely to be a candidate, I think, no list announced yet
Hauiti started by pointing out how far NZ has come that she, a lesbian Maori woman, was the National candidate for Mangere, while Sue Bradford, "wahine pakeha", was here to represent the Mana party.  I had not encountered her or McCabe before and found them both good speakers, with Hauiti relying too much on scripted lines and lists of initiatives, while McCabe was a real character, saying she doesn't want to be MP for the seat she is running for.  I look forward to hearing her again at Women's Choice 2011!

Speeches first covered the issue the candidate felt was most important for women in Aotearoa NZ today. Hauiti talked about the economy, Bradford the needs of women living in poverty & on low incomes.  Kedgeley and McCabe both focused on pay equity.  Beaumont spoke about the economy too, but went into more detail than Hauiti, talking about the "major structural imbalances in the economy."

Next up was child poverty, and specific measures that could be taken.  Bradford said this was a "headline issue for Mana", that they see ending child poverty as central to all their policy. Kedgeley stated that it was a "key priority [for the Greens] to lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2012."  Beaumont indicated that children were to be a major policy area for Labour, and that they would announce "six year policy agenda for change for children" before election.  McCabe discussed ending corporate welfare "overnight" and the need to focus on assisting Maori (and that Act supported Whanau Ora-type programmes).  Hauiti spoke about a list of initiatives the Government had already undertaken, and said a lot of the issue in Mangere was that people didn't know about the support that was available and it was her job to tell them.

The third topic was something frequently discussed at NCW meetings, alcohol law reform.  There was quite a bit of criticism of the Government's handling of the reform bill, and lamentation of the lost opportunity presented by the Law Commission report, from Kedgeley, Beaumont and Bradford.  McCabe appeared to be reading out this blog post from Kiwiblog, and felt drugs were a bigger problem.  There did seem to be general consensus on the purchase age not being the real issue, except from Hauiti who focused on youth drinking.

Finally the candidates turned to the issue of our aging population.  Beaumont talked about pre-funding as the only way to protect pension levels in future, and the role of Kiwisaver.  Both she and Kedgeley mentioned the inquiry the Greens and Labour held looking at Aged Care, and how some of what they uncovered appalled them.  McCabe covered the possibility of a second global financial crisis soon, and how by a date I didn't catch 100% of GDP would be consumed by health and pensions.  Hauiti said that National had already made changes and that they had increased the married rate for super by 19% and that they had boosted health system, again reading from a list of initiatives.  Bradford spoke of Mana's focus on children and young people and briefly of commitment to maintaining super and improving aged care workers' lot.  Kedgeley talked about super too, and also preventative health care and the "whole suite of policies" the Greens have to tackle poor nutrition. 

Some memorable quotes:
Claudette Hauiti (National) repeatedly (seriously at least twice in each speech) said "the John-Key led National Government", and to two issues said "it's not what National propose to do it's what National has done." 

Carol Beaumont (Labour) "...third world diseases, hunger, 58,000 youth not in school training or work, cuts to Adult Community Education and the Training Incentive Allowance; all of these have been disproportionately bad for women."

Sue Kedgeley (Greens), on alcohol:  "The damage is enormous and excessive...  Society is clamouring for political leadership on this issue."

Kath McCabe (ACT)  talked about current hiring approaches as being about finding "the best friend, not the best person", and that "God made man in his own image and man employs in his own image, and women do not fit."

Sue Bradford (Mana) said "why punish the children of beneficiaries because their mother or father cannot get employment?" and later "We can afford these things, it's about how we prioritise."

Specific policy details mentioned:
For National:  Conscience vote on drinking age.  Personal commitment from John Key to maintaining married rate of super at 66%, at 65 years of age, if re-elected. 

For Labour:  Fairer tax system, including no tax on first $5,000.  Apprenticeships programme.  Set clear poverty target.  $15 minimum wage.  GST off fresh fruit and veg.  "Stronger response" on alcohol law reform around price, advertising, availability, drink driving levels.  More support for screening for fetal alcohol syndrome, and treatment for alcohol and drug addiction.  Better training and pay for aged care workers.  Minimum staffing levels for aged care.  Elder abuse networks across the country. 

For Greens:  Private Member's Bill to require employers to keep data about gender and pay and share it if asked.  Extend Flexible Working Arrangements legislation to all workers.  Address low pay of women in areas like Aged Care.  Raise minimum wage to $15/hr.  Extend WFF to beneficiaries.  Develop energy efficient standard for rental properties to meet by 2018.  Reinstate TIA for those on DPB.  Tobacco-style ban on advertising and sponsorship for alcohol.  Introduce minimum price per standard alcoholic drink.  Warning labels on alcohol especially around fetal alcohol syndrome.  Lower drink driving limits.  Super to stay at 65.  First $10,000 tax free.  Re-focus health system on preventative care.  Aged Care Commissioner.  More community-based models for aged care, fewer institutions.

For ACT:**  Adopt Australian stock-exchange approach of publishing data on proportion of female directors.  Continue Whanau Ora.  Looking at removing "welfare for middle classes".  Voucher system for health care, rather than state provision.  Opposed to free trade agreements including Pharmac.

For Mana:  Abolish GST.  Introduce financial transaction tax.  Introduce capital gains tax for everything except family home & Maori land.  More progressive income tax system, including no tax on first $15,000.  Minimum wage to be $15/hr by April 2012, thereafter fix to percentage of average wage.  Lift benefit levels.  Include beneficiaries in WFF.  Stimulus-type package of $1000 for every person earning under a certain amount (I missed how much) by Xmas.  Build 10,000 state houses in 2012 and a further 10,000 in 2013.  Bottom line of keeping super age at 65.  Support for improving pay, conditions & skills of aged care workers.


On the whole it was an interesting debate.  The nature of NCW branch meetings, in Auckland anyway, is that they are very polite and there was no heckling, no interjections, although some general rumblings of approval at times and gentle laughter at others.  Afterwards there was time to mingle with the candidates and talk with them, over a cup of tea.  It was quite refreshing to be at a low-key political debate.

Anyone else who was there please feel free to share your observations :-)

*  I am an individual member, which means I get one vote in branch meetings.  Most members who attend regularly are there for various organisations affiliated to NCW and they get four votes (two each for two reps).  In terms of political parties, National, Labour and the Greens are definitely affiliated, not sure about any of the others.
**  I wasn't clear how much of this was party policy and how much McCabe's personal views, so please read it with that caveat in mind.