BIG NEWS: 08/01/2010 - 09/01/2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How Government Ministers respond to OIA requests

A good post by No Right Turn overnight, indicating that government Ministers are regularly ignoring the law when responding to requests made under the Official Information Act.

Of more than 2000 requests to Ministers under the Official Information Act between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2010, just one Minister, Chris Finlayson, responded to all requests within the statutory 20 day period. All other Ministers have failed to uphold the law.

Overall, only 71 percent of requests were answered on time, while three Ministers - Jonathan Coleman, Tim Groser, and Judith Collins - made timely responses in only 50 percent of cases. One Minister, Gerry Brownlee, responded to less than 40 percent of requests within the statutory period.

Another Minister, Paula Bennett, refused to cooperate at all, offering various excuses before ultimately claiming that compiling the data would not be in the public interest. This refusal is now the subject of a complaint to the Ombudsman.

OIA responses must be provided "as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received". Just about everyone flouts that law. Ministers appear to be using the 20-day period as a deadline and flouting that, which is worse.

The survey will be repeated next year.


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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Real Life Social Networks

Paul Adams, a senior user experience researcher at Google created an extremely rich and insightful presentation looking at the challenges that real-life social networks bring to web design.

When it comes to reflecting our real life social networks into what could be considered rudimentary online networks, there is a real design challenge in terms representing how your friends, colleagues and associates inter-relate to each other.

Social technologies such as Facebook and Twitter have a homogenised view of friendship; they group everyone together. This typically doesn’t reflect how real friendships are nurtured and naturally creates communication challenges.

For example, not everyone will want to know on a daily basis about your fondness of cats, or wants to know about your regular eating habits.

So next time before you tag your photo’s on Facebook, Flickr or send that Tweet consider who will actually see it and do they need to?



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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Education Ministry to educate parents on National Standards

The Ministry of Education has sent brochures to boards of primary schools for them to distribute to parents to educate them on how children can meet the various National Standards. Apparently these weren’t sent to schools, they were sent to board chairs instead – perhaps to ensure that principals unsupportive of National Standards - which appears to be most of them - didn’t throw them in the bin.

I’ve read the National Standards and the brochures. While the brochures are good and explain what children need to do to improve their learning, they fall a little short in reflecting the Standards. However they do reflect aspects of the National Curriculum. For example, in discussing reading standards at Years 4 and 5, the brochures (see Year 4 [PDF] and Year 5 [PDF] state
that to meet these Standards, children will know what they want to read, they will “read smoothly, like taking”, recognise and understand information in different kinds of books, and understand different levels of meaning.

But the actual Standards for Years 4 and 5 demands that students will read, respond to and think critically about texts. It states they will locate, integrate and evaluate information on ideas as they work at Level 2 and towards Level 3 of the New Zealand Curriculum respectively. That’s just to meet the standard.

It is unclear why the Ministry wants to communicate to parents on National Standards without reference to documents like this [PDF] that attempts to explain what the Standards actually are. It is also unclear why the Ministry does not appear interested to advise parents what children need to do to exceed these standards. It is also unclear what the Ministry is expecting schools to do, because the leaflets say one thing, the Standards another, the Minister, something else altogether.As this indicates, Anne Tolley is deluded.

Meanwhile schools are grading kids as either “meeting” “working towards” or “exceeding” National Standards when they are not even required to grade kids in this way for the purposes of reporting to parents.


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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Local body candidates for Wellington

This link has the names of all candidates seeking office in 2010 in Wellington. Find out what you can about them and vote. I`ll be posting a bit about the candidates between now and the election.

Those standing for the Ohariu Community Board, the Eastbourne Community Board, the Porirua Community Trust or the Otaki Community Board, will all be declared elected, as there are the same number of candidates as seats.


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9000 sickness beneficiaries can work

Minister Paula Bennett says that 9000 sickness beneficiaries have been medically certificate as being able to work part time, and they are going to be work tested.

I wonder how many of these 9000 actually work part time at the moment? We don't know if the Minister knows or not because the media didn't ask her.


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Friday, August 20, 2010

Wellington City Council to give middle finger to ratepayers, telling them they are ignorant.

Yesterday, a commissioners report was posted on the Wellington City Council’s website regarding amendments to the District Plan. District Plan Change 72 will provide high-density housing in suburbs like Johnsonville and Kilbirnie as part of an urban development strategy for growth. But at the same time the Council has not made any associated plans to upgrade infrastructure to ensure these plans are successful.

Most ratepayers oppose these changes, and much of the report discussed spinning out such opposition. As the Council had “embarked on a path of intensification, the Commissioners have reported that it must continue to commit to that direction”. In other words, consult, but summarily disregard most ratepayer opposition to that direction.

More than 300 submissions were received after the plan was notified, which is an extraordinary high number. Most of these submissions were from Johnsonville ratepayers, concerned that high density housing will lower property values, and undermine the character of the suburb, which is already stretched. Johnsonville makes up six percent of the Wellington population but has been asked to accommodate 75% of the burden for growth in the Wellington area. The Council is expected to rubber stamp the changes in a few days.

The committee who wrote the report believes that many of the submitters did not understand what they were submitting to, and that “the rules proposed were not fully understood”. Some may well not have understood, because the Council is not particularly good at communicating its plans. Others who have done research on these issues have a clearer idea of what the Council intends to do and have come out more strongly against the proposals than those whom the Council claim are ignorant.

The committee also said that there was a “ demonstrated relationship between quality public transport services.. and proximity to public transport routes”. Trouble is that there is not a quality public transport system as the antiquated trains don’t turn up on time and they break down consistently, which is why passenger levels are declining.

The committee maintains that recommended changes will encourage commercial investment. In order for that to happen there needs to be development in an already crowded area. The Council believes that the proposed plan will “ encourage more comprehensive development” but says it is “ unlikely to occur.. without site amalgamations”, implying that it is doubtful that the plan will achieve its aims in that area.

If Northern Ward Councillors vote for this change to the District Plan, based on the Commissioners’ report, it gives ratepayers another good reason to turf them out in October.


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Thursday, August 19, 2010

One bad apple should not spoil barrel of student associations

I co-wrote an article published in the Dominion Post today.
The behaviour of former representatives at the Whitireia Independent Students’ Association (WISA), as it has been reported, has been appalling and is completely unacceptable. The individuals involved have taken advantage of a position of trust. It is extremely disappointing to see members’ trust in any charitable organisation abused to any degree, let alone fraud of hundreds of thousands of dollars taken from students, many of whom struggle to make ends meet while studying.

The situation at Whitireia is an exception to the rule. No business, charity, or home is immune from fraud and crime. Take the recent examples of Roger McClay with charities, or Mark Bryers with Blue Chip. While it is blatantly clear that Whitreia Independent Students' Association has failed its members, it would be wrong to imply one example as representative of all students’ associations. Calling for voluntary membership for all student associations based on one example would be like calling for Parliament to be abolished because of the deeds of [former MP] McClay. Just because there’s one or two bad apples doesn’t mean you throw out the whole barrel.
Although it is not online at Stuff, NZ Union of Students' Association has put a copy on its site.. Have a read.


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Income splitting II

Peter Dunne has said that income splitting for tax purposes would give about 310,000 families tax relief. However it appears that this group of people include those who have more than one job, and thus get taxed on secondary income. A one income family on $80k will get $5280 in tax relief from income splitting. But they wont if a partner was home, and 25 percent of his income was taxed as secondary tax. If that couple had two jobs - one on $50,000 the other on $30,000 - that will get them $250 tax relief. This means that both couples pay the same amount of tax, even though one couple pays more transport costs in getting to and from work.

The bill does not seem clear as to how family income will be equalised through income splitting with secondary tax, meaning that partner not only pays a higher proportion of their income in tax, they cant split their income for tax purposes the same way as other couples either. This impacts lower income families - who are likely to have several part time jobs - more as a family who earns $60k between them - one on $40k, the other on $20k - gets no relief from income splitting. They won't get any tax relief if one of these partners works two jobs. For example, the higher earner may have 40 percent of his income taxed at secondary tax, and although that couple earn exactly the same amount, as other families on $60k - they'll pay more tax if it is not equalised. They'll also have more transport costs to and from their various places of work.

And these days there are more and more people in this situation. And a parent doing three jobs at a 35/30/40 percentage income split will be paying most of their tax on the secondary rate, with no clawback on income splitting.

Having bills that go to select committee on the basis of pre-arranged agreements is political reality under MMP. At least the public can have their say on matters as raised above and in my earlier post on the issue.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Anne Tolley's comprehension standards

Anne Tolley is at war with teachers of over National Standards. She has welcomed a report (as opposed to actually reading it) from the Education Review Office which shows that 80 percent of primary and intermediate schools are already making good progress with implementing National Standards.

Except the report doesn't say that.

The report actually says that less than half of schools have a plan in place to implement the National Standards. In fact 80 percent of schools are not well prepared to implement National Standards. Those schools that are, are ready because they are merely continuing with what they already do. The report says that only 15 percent of teachers and four percent of school trustees understand National Standards, and at least a third of schools hadn`t even thought about how to moderate teacher judgments to ensure consistency of student achievement against the standards.

Tolley thought it was "extremely encouraging" that 75 percent of schools have taken advantage of external support in trying to understand National Standards. What's not so encouraging, however, is that those conducting the external support haven't answered teachers' questions.

Still, she is encouraged that " the vast majority of schools are working hard to implement National Standards in a professional and positive way."

Except there is no evidence that they are..

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Income splitting for tax purposes

Peter Dunne's Taxation (Income-sharing Tax Credit) Bill that aims to split a family income equally between two partners for tax purposes was tabled in parliament today. It is hardly a fair bill and I`d be surprised if it passes the second reading. It will go to select committee as it is part of National's confidence and supply agreement with United Future. The agreement says that National will support "appropriate legislation to First Reading in Parliament". But National could then oppose it at select committee, before the second reading.

The bill means the more one partner's income is in relation to the other, the more tax relief they`ll get - provided they parent at least one child. A one income family on $40,000 has the second partner go to work, getting $30,000 - a combined income of $70,000. Another family on $50,000 has their partner go to work for $20,000, getting exactly the same combined income. Trouble is, although they get the same amount of Working for Families payments if they have the same number of kids, they don't pay the same amount of tax. So Peter Dunne thinks that if the main breadwinner of the family has a a higher income than the main breadwinner of another, thus paying more tax, that family should get more tax relief from splitting their income for tax purposes. Particularly if that earner got a much bigger salary than his or her partner. Of course if there was no gap - say both were earning $35,000 - they'd get nothing as the other two couples would be paying the same amount of tax as them after income splitting.

The rationale behind this bill is that if a household was running a business it could get these tax breaks. Additionally it could encourage more parents to stay at home full time with kids, apparently. Lets take a look at how that can work.

If your partner was earning $60,000 and you earned $20,000, tax splitting would encourage you to stay home and look after the kids, so the theory goes. Staying at work, you'd be better off by $1500 with income splitting. Quitting work would mean you are only better off by $980 (thats $18 a week) less the forgone $20,000. Even halving your hours, getting $10,000 means you'd pay just $490 less tax - and be a total of $9510 worse off, due to loss of income.

That's hardly an incentive to quit work or reduce your hours to stay home with the kids , you may think. Furthermore if your family income did drop from $80,000 to $70,000 your three kids will get you a whopping $34 extra a week in Working for Families Payments. You'll wont save much on childcare costs staying at home, either because, with three kids you would have been getting the maximum $11.10 an hour child care subsidy anyway, - which means you were only paying a couple of bucks per hour per child .

But a family on $130,000 - one on $120,000 the other on $10,000 working one day a week will get $6830 in tax relief - and thats even when one partner does look after the kids four days a week. That`ll pay for your childcare, and your mortgage for three months..

While I`m no expert on tax, income splitting, to me, appears a little like a policy that is in essence an alternative policy to altering tax thresholds for those who earn more than $38,000 as compensation for paying a higher proportion of their income on tax, and getting a little less Working for Families - provided they have kids. Tax cuts for the rich - although not the childless rich - without altering the tax thresholds. The amount of kids doesn't matter, its the same amount of tax relief whether one has one or ten children. As it is an opt in policy, this means that if you don't apply to the IRD at the end of the tax year, you`ll miss out.

That said, low income families do get some relief. A family on $40,000 - one partner on $10,000 the other on $30,000 will get $280. But that's exactly what a family on $50,000 will get if one partner earned $10,000. But both couples will get $980 if the lower earning partner quits work, even though one breadwinner earns $10,000 more. Yep, the lower the income, the more unfair it gets, according to this chart.

The chart shows that many low income families will get nothing from income splitting - but a childless couple on $120,000 could get up to $8480 tax free just by having a child. That's more than nearly all couples - including the very poorest who get nothing from income splitting - get in Working for Families payments for having their first child.

Next post: What if you get paid in secondary tax because you have more than one job.

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On Equality

Blogger Idiot Savant is a support of gay marriage and joint adoption for gay couples - because he supports equality. Fair enough.

Those who don't agree with him are described as bigots. To him, equality is a matter of principle. So I ask him, when will he address the fact that gay couples are able to be treated differently to other couples - and thus get a greater amount of assistance from the state when they are unemployed or otherwise receiving a benefit? I would have thought equality would necessitate that they be treated the same as heterosexual couples rather than as two single individuals.

Strangely he is silent on this.Why?

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Community leaders stunned that abuser is released after serving full prison sentence

The NZ Herald reports:
Community leaders are outraged one of the people who put slain child Nia Glassie in a clothes dryer has been released from prison without warning
What I can't work out is why a warning is needed. Michael Pearson, who abused Nia Glassie, has served his full three year sentence. Community leaders got that warning when he was sentenced - that is, he`d be out in three years at the very longest. So why be "stunned" that he is released after serving that sentence in its entirety? Particularly as his one of his co-accused, Oriwa Kemp, got three years and four months jail - but was out in less than two years.

Perhaps community leaders should also be asking if he is to go back to his chaotic home environment.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Complete rubbish

David Farrar gets all excited when student associations are fraudulent, and implies that if student associations like the Whitireia Independent Students Association were not compulsory this fraud would never have happened.

This, of course is complete rubbish.

In order for that conclusion to have even a little bit of substance, students would not be able to opt out of membership, and if they could, they would find it hard to do so. But in fact, this Students' Association appears to be very easy to opt out of, should students wish to do so. That is because they have optional membership as do all students associations.
Membership Optional:
As a student you automatically become a Member of the Students Association. This convenient measure means you as a student can access services and amenities immediately from your first day on Campus. However, should you not want to be a member and require a full refund, you must opt out within 20 days from the commencement of your Course of Study. This can be arranged at the Administration Office.
Easy as that. Furthermore, even if you want to opt out after the 20 days, it is still possible to do so under current legislation.

Compulsory membership of Student's Associations has no relationship to fraud of these associations, just like compulsory paying of taxes - by workers and beneficiaries - is not responsible for any of the unemployed being on the dole (and thus taxpayer funded) because they can't yet find a job.


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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pushing those on the DPB to work

The NZ Herald reports:
A sole parent with three young children paying the $332 average rent for a three-bedroom house in Papakura would get $206 in family support and $165 in accommodation supplement on top of the $278 DPB, a total of $649 a week.
Lets assume that she could walk straight into a job.

What would happen if she got a job for 25 hours a week at $20 per hour, or $500 per week – by no means the minimum hourly rate.

Firstly, because she is working more than 20 hours, she'd get the in work tax credit. She’d get $500 ($407 net) a week in income. Her family support will be the same, her accommodation supplement would reduce just $5.00. But the $60 In work Tax Credit bumps up her income to $833.00 - an extra $184.00 per week .

Sounds good. But even if she get 20 hours free, she`ll still be paying at least $180 a week in childcare and after school care, assuming she has two preschoolers at the right age and one child who is at school - leaving her nothing extra to pay for transport to get to work and clothes to wear to work.

Would you work for about $1.00 extra an hour? If so, what would you do if your child gets sick? What would you do if you cant get 20 hours free childcare because your childcare centre doesn't offer it or your kids are the wrong age?

If she got a job for $17.50 an hour for a 40 hour week - that’s $700 ($562 net) - she`d get $110.00 accommodation supplement and the same WFF assistance – totalling $878.00. That is $229 extra than the benefit and allowances.

Even better. But after child care costs, an income of $36,400 would leave her less than $50.00 extra to pay for transport to get to work and clothes to wear to work.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

How you can be above or well below the National Standards - on the same piece of work.

Here is how a parent who has seen their child's school report can be sure that their child meets the National Standards, if that report claims to do so.

In a mapping exercise, a team of 14 experienced teachers independently worked through a set of tests and aligned them with National Standards. They looked at various pieces of work and assessed then against the National Standards. Slight problem - not all got the same assessment.

Here's the graph for Year 8.

The dotted line at 1650 points, shows the judgement made by these experts for a set of scripts that all scored 1650 points. The graph shows that a script with a total score of 1650 can be judged at and below the standard, but also judged well below and above the standard, depending on who assesses it. You can get all these judgements against the National Standards on the same test score.

If a child's work is to be assessed by one school as well below the standard, and above the standard at another, surely that raises questions of reliability if the standards are not clear enough for teachers to consistently use the assessment tools to accurately measure student performance against these standards.


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Saturday, August 07, 2010

There's research... and there's research.

This week the "Future Focus" bill had its second reading.

It is now called the Social Assistance (New Work Tests, Incentives, and Obligations) Amendment Bill and would place more stringent obligations on those in receipt of State welfare and encourage beneficiaries into work, hopefully by changing their behaviour.The Ministry of Social Development’s Regulatory Impact Statement on the Bill said.
“There is no research currently available which accurately quantifies the size of the behavioural response from these changes in policies. This prevents estimates, with the degree of accuracy required, from being made of the number of people who will move from benefit to work over a year, as a result of the proposed changes.”
So, there needs to be some more research to quantify how successful such policy change will be. One of the justifications of not lowering the drink driving limit was that more research is needed to be done to quantify the impact of the change. But when it comes to beneficiaries, ideology trumps research.

Itt is difficult to see how the evaluation of this legislation will provide further research if the most of the reports that are to be generated in relation are being done currently, such as exits from benefits to work. Currently Work and Income does not know , in each case, whether someone has gone off a benefit into full time work or part time work on a high enough income to exit the system, nor the degree of assistance from the Ministry in many cases. Perhaps we need some research on that. According to the Regulatory Impact Statement, that won't change.

The MSD even admits that Case Managers are not work testing to the extent they should be - they are loathe to use " work testing. Perhaps we need some research on that, too. To make it more complicated by a more gradual work test, (including reducing part time workers'( in some cases incorrectly) abated benefit by a further 50% for the first four weeks) will not encourage Case Managers to use it. This bill is indeed about work test, incentives and obligations. Yet, while Case Managers have an obligation to use the work test, this legislation gives them no incentive to do so, and there are no consequences if they do not work test when they should. Perhaps we need research on that, in future, too.

Perhaps it is a good idea that the words "future" and "focus" were taken out of the bill.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

What is the Government doing about this – and what are the oppositions ideas?

The Household Labour Force survey is out.

There are now 159,000 officially unemployed in New Zealand. That's not including those whose benefits are suspended.

There are now 43,000 more people out of work than there were in November 2008.

Nearly 100,000 people are unemployed but are not receiving a benefit.

21% of those on benefits are caring for children under 6.

30.6% of recipients are aged 18 – 24 years.

34% of beneficiaries are Maori.

Maori unemployment is at 16.4% ( up from 15.4 % in February) and Pacific unemployment is at 14.1%, both big increases from 12.6% and 12.8% respectively a year ago.

At the end of June this year, 333,000 working age people were on main social security benefits - an increase of 75,000.

45,000 of them are teenagers.

19,000 people lost their jobs in the past three months.

In the last three months 7000 people have given up looking for work and have dropped out of the labour force.

The number of those on benefits has increased 29% in the 2 years ending June. That's one in three extra beneficiaries.

That's not including the "hidden unemployed" -the students, those whose partners work, those who work part time but want to work full time.

And the chances that you are one of the above is the highest since 1999.

What’s worse, there are now 255,700 jobless (either unemployed, not ‘actively’ seeking work, or not able to start work immediately).

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Good decision

Roger Douglas' Education ( Board of Trustees Freedom) Amendment Bill got voted down today .

This bill would have introduced bulk funding into schools, and it would have meant that school Boards of Trustees would pay teachers and set their salaries. It would have meant that wealthy schools in leafy suburbs who raise $80,000 in their school fairs would get all the top teachers, and the lower decile schools who struggle to raise $200 at sausage sizzles will get the teachers who miss out on higher pay jobs at these higher decile schools as is happening in Denver,Colorado.. This inequality will not lead to increased overall student achievement. Bulk funding is leading to more inequality in Colorado, and it will do the same here.

But Act (and the Maori Party, who also supported this bill) don't really care about inequality in schools. The Maori Party only care about Kura and Act only care about people getting individual choice to structure their own affairs - and if that widens the gap between rich schools and poor schools, Act thinks that is just tough.

The bill is unfair, unnecessary and leads to greater inequality.Bulk funding didn't work in the '90's and it won't work now. And if freedom leads to more inequality its hardly positive freedom. That's why this bill was thrown out - and rightly so. Kelvin Davis made a good speech on the bill. You can see that here.

Now, the next thing that needs to happen is for another Douglas bill on education that will lead to inequality to be voted down in the next reading. Equality of outcome is important. How can that increase if equality of opportunity is reduced?


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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The politics-media death spiral

No-one, it seems, is happy with how our nation currently does politics and I'm wondering why.Let me focus on two key groups, the politicians and the political media.

These two institutions dominate the creation of the space in which we discuss politics, and whether we are directly influenced by their views or not, we all have to breath the air they exhale.

At the moment they are joined at the nose, staring at each other obsessively, almost oblivious to everything else. They are in a kind of death spiral.
Read the rest from ABC here.

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Rules on parliamentary sick leave

Righto. Chris Carter wants two weeks months sick leave and is applying to the speakers office to do so.Fair enough, he's sought medical advice, but, unlike the plebs, he doesn't have to supply a sick note.Parties can only give 14 sitting days sick leave - that's just over four and a half weeks. Carter can get more sick leave if he applies to the speakers office. He could get about three and a half weeks to make up the two months.

If it is not granted, Carter could lose $10 a day off his pay. At a salary of $145,000 that's about 10 minutes pay per day. The most he can lose is $150 off his pay ( at a maximum of $30 per week as there are three sitting days each week).

Does that mean that he can take sick leave on practically full pay even if the speaker doesn't grant it? If so, why, when the rest of us have to take annual leave when sick leave runs out.

Oh and Chris Carter has got some supporters who have a blog now. Nice, too, apart from the spelling.At least they got rid of the " hello world" post.Finally.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

An interesting debate

The Australian Sex Party and the conservative Family Party went head to head on Aussie TV this morning and you can see it here. From censorship to marriage, they disagree on nearly everything. While both think it is important to vote, I`m sure the Family First party won’t like this ad that encouraged people to enrol to vote.

Discussion on family and marriage was interesting – the Family Party considers marriage should be between a man and a woman, the Sex Party doesn’t– and it wouldn’t – the Sex Party spokesperson's sister has a same sex partner and a daughter, but noted that she can't get married.

The Sex Party prefers a woman prime minister- implying the current one, who does not share the policies of the Sex Party on marriage.

It`ll be interesting to see which party gets the most votes.

At the moment, 16% of the country have not decided on who to vote for on August 21.

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