BIG NEWS: 08/01/2011 - 09/01/2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wellington drivers to be refunded thousands of dollars of parking fines

The Wellington City Council is to waive and refund thousands of dollars of parking tickets to motorists after wardens and council contractors blatantly ignored Council policy in issuing parking infringements.

I first wrote about it here.

According to information released through the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act, parking wardens ignored policy in issuing $10,860 worth of tickets at clearways in the past two years. Most were issued in one street since July 2010 when a covert “dash-cam” - a Council vehicle with a camera - was introduced. This dashcam has taken thousands of photographs of up to six parked cars in one frame – that’s up to $360 per frame for the Council if unchallenged.

According to the Council’s parking manual [not online], infringement notices are “not issued…until six minutes after a (clearway) restriction begins, or within six minutes of when the restriction ends”. Yet in the past two years, 181 were – including people parked for a matter of seconds, still in their vehicles. The Council’s manual also states that “when the person in charge of the vehicle is present, then he or she in the first instance should be moved on”.

But instead hundreds have been covertly ticketed; most of the 181 were ticketed from the dash-cam in the past year, three-quarters actively targeted in Bowen Street moments after parking.

I asked Parkwise Manager Denis de Groet why his staff were repeatedly breaching council policy. "I'm not going to tell you," he said.

After the decision to photograph cars within this six-minute “grace” period, another decision was made to again ignore council policy, and spend ratepayers money by getting 154 vehicle registration checks, posting tickets to all registered owners – many of whom simply paid up.

As a direct result of my request, the Council’s Parking Services Manager, Colleen Thessman told me that $5100 (excluding legal costs) will be refunded to 85 vehicle owners as their tickets should not have been issued or enforced in the first place. An additional 16 tickets ($960) - about to be enforced through the courts or currently in the court system – will be waived. In addition, 76 vehicle owners - most parked in Bowen Street, had to go through the arduous process of successfully appealing tickets they should never have got in the first place.

I was one of these 76. I was told I was “considered to negatively impact on the safety and congestion around our city” after parking for 30-45 seconds without even turning my car engine off. I wrote to Thessman who told me that, despite the council’s policy, my ticket would not be waived - and to request a court hearing if I refused to pay. So I wrote to the Council’s Chief Executive - and later got the ticket waived, interestingly, a few days after I sent my OIA.

In Bowen Street, parking wardens have historically hidden among roadside bushes out of sight of motorists, emerging within the six minute “window” to ticket unsuspecting drivers who locked and left their vehicles. Other drivers drove away to avoid being ticketed –and Parking Services managers told me that as a result, the Council was unable to generate enough money – hence the dash-cams.

Now, drivers, realising that they are at parking spaces minutes early, quickly vacate- only to be pinged $60 from the impeccably timed dash-cam.

Yet Colleen Thessman claimed that the council had no idea that Council policy was being breached– despite my photographic evidence to the parking warden contracts manager as early as last year. I asked a couple of weeks back whether owners of other vehicles in my “dash cam” photo would similarly get their tickets waived or refunded – Thessman said no, they wouldn’t.

This week she changed her mind.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Key pushes the minor party vote at the expense of National candidates

Last week there was a rumour that Phil Goff asked his front bench if he should resign as leader. Goff has denied this and said today ”I think you`ll find that that spin has its origins in the National Party”.

Earlier today John Key emphatically denied that this came from the National Party, saying that National has “no interest in the Labour leadership”.

However, while Key is interested in speaking at conferences of minor parties – fronting to Maori Party and Act conferences, and, today, the United Future conference, he has no interest in debating their leaders on TV, but wants at least two of them to win their seats - in Ohariu-Belmont and Epsom - and is therefore encouraging supporters to list vote National – but split their vote.

While some New Zealanders what to be informed on minor party policies, Key thinks that this should not happen while he shares the TV screen, saying today “it wouldn’t do a lot about informing New Zealanders”.

So informing New Zealanders about minor parties is somewhat pointless to Key. Does he expect National to govern alone? The TV3 poll came out today showing the Greens on their highest ever polling of 9.3 percent - in fact their polling is way higher than NZ First, United Future, Act, Mana and Maori parties combined. The Greens would have nearly a third of the number of seats that Labour would have, and Labour just under half what National would have. Labour would likely lose six seats if the election were held today. Mana would get two seats if they win an electorate seat. National could govern alone – but may choose to include Peter Dunne as part of the government, if he wins his seat, as is likely.

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Key may have minister from a minor party even if National were to govern alone

I attended my first political party conference today for two reasons: One it was just down the road from where I live, and Prime Minister John Key was there.

John Key has lived in Peter Dunne’s electorate. Key and Dunne obviously have a good relationship, and will continue to do so after the election. Key said Dunne has done an “excellent job” as a minister in a complex portfolio. At the stand up after Key’s speech, he said even if National governed alone, conversation lines will still be open with “all minor (parliamentary) parties like Act and United Future.

I asked Key if his relationship with Dunne, who is associate Minister of Health and Revenue Minister, would change. His first word in his reply was no. Nor did he rule out a leader from a minor party –like Dunne in UnitedFuture –from having a ministerial role in a situation should National govern alone.

That would be a first.

Key said any minor party ministerial roles would depend on what expectations minor parties had in ministerial roles – but it is pretty clear what Dunne’s expectations are.

It is clear that Key obviously wants Dunne back in Parliament. Gossip among the press gallery is that Dunne is in danger of losing his seat – and would have lost it in 2008 had the Greens and Labour tag-teamed. Key was asked by reporters if his invite to the UnitedFuture conference was to drum up support for Dunne. He laughed that off, as expected, and said his standard line that it is up to the people of Ohariu who they give their candidate vote to but National will be running a strong party vote in the electorate.

That said, Key sees Dunne as someone who he sees as a like-minded person whom can work through sensible compromises. As long as Dunne has a reasonable chance of being elected in Ohariu-Belmont, the National candidate will be told to run a strong party vote campaign, and be told their entry to parliament depends on their list placing. National will hope its supporters will split their vote.

At the conference, Dunne also announced changes to child support, including the reduction in the number of nights a year used to determine shared care being reduced from 40 percent to 28 percent of nights. Child support payments will be deducted directly from the paying parent's wages.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Wellington Mayor picks and chooses in answering the “burning questions"

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade Brown did the equivalent of a #Goffchat today at the Dominion Post. The DomPost, in advertising the event said “Got a burning question for the mayor?” I thought I’d ask a question.

The chat started at 1pm so I asked my question at 12.50pm as soon as the site opened.

It wasn’t addressed. So I got someone else to ask it. It still wasn’t answered. The Mayor was picking and choosing which questions she would answer.

So what ”burning questions” were actually answered? Questions like what the mayor’s favourite cafe is, and what her favourite TV show is. She was asked who of Hilary Clinton or Julia Gillard was hotter – actually, perhaps that is what they meant by the “burning question”.

She was asked to rank the four main centres, but didn’t – just saying Wellington was number one. She was asked what she can do about the trains running on time, she said it was the Regional Council’s responsibility.

She was asked if she regretted biking out to see Hilary Clinton at the airport, she raved on about being one of a few “cycling mayors of cities” - without naming the actual cities.

Even the Dominion Post got to ask its own question – and that was of the few serious questions that were adequately answered.

She said having American Ambassador, Swiss Ambassador and others join her on a bike to Work ride was one of her top five achievements as Mayor. Ratepayers would be wanting more than that, surely.

Perhaps I should have asked her if she mounts her cycle on the left side or the right side. I’m sure that will be a burning question for some.

She may have even answered it. I`m sure she would have said the left side.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Snowing in Wellington: A once in a lifetime event

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Monday, August 15, 2011

National’s welfare policy is hot air on a cold day – it won’t happen

National’s plan to get tough on 16-18 year olds will not happen – and listening to John Key defending the policy on Morning Report today I suspect Key actually doesn’t even believe that it will be implemented the way he would like. I don’t think it will be implemented properly at all – because most things can be done without a policy change and they are just not being done now.

What would help is if the Government was as loud on the desirability of intact stable two-parent families as they were on waving a stick at teen beneficiaries whom nobody wants to employ or train. Perhaps he could ask why WINZ has put these teens in the too-hard basket, along with those who have been receiving a benefit for 10 years.

Young sole parents would be required to be in work or training – but there are not enough work or training opportunities for the ones that have not got themselves pregnant or dropped out of school.

There are between 8500 and 13,500 aged 16 and 17 not in work, training or education – and of those about 4000 are on benefits. The policy costs at least $20m a year to implement, (that’s about a few hours of borrowing). That’s $5,000 per person if each person was assisted in the first year. If only a third were assisted that’s $15,000 a person – and that’s if they are not back on a benefit after three months because there is no job follow up.

Not even a third will be assisted. The policy won’t be targeted properly, therefore it won’t be implemented correctly. This policy is not about getting people into work or training - it is about getting few people off benefits without saying how that will happen, who is going to do it, how it will be implemented and if it will be evaluated. If a vulnerable pregnant teen was supported by her parents and didn’t need a benefit, do you think the WINZ or any other government funded group will help her find training or a job?

No they won’t – even though, legally, any teen 16 and over can register with WINZ as a job seeker and should get training opportunities if they want to skill up or get a get a job – even if they are not receiving a benefit.

All the significant matters – direct crediting power, pre-loaded payment cards, budgeting advice, obligation to look for work or be in training, training on literacy and numeracy, can be done now. If John Key thinks the current system is “abandonment” this that perhaps reflects the government’s attitude to these people – abandonment, with nice words.

My earlier blog post on this topic is here.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Key's speech to the National Party conference

At today’s National Party conference, John Key flagged some changes (some of which weren't changes) he hopes will prevent 16-17 year old's going onto the unemployment benefit. Instead they will have jobs, education or training – and receive a copy of “Playground Battle” from the feelers, as it has the song “Stand Up”, the theme song from the conference.

Actually, they`ll miss out on the feelers – and the training incentive allowance. Some will miss out on most of their benefit too, as it will be put on payment cards that can't be used on cigarettes and alcohol( which they can't legally buy anyway). If they study part time, perhaps if they get accepted in a tertiary institute in a few years, they won’t get $1000 course-related costs, like I did when I was studying.

The Government is going to amend the Privacy Act and the Education Act to require schools to reveal when 16- and 17-year-olds leave during the year, and share this information between the Ministries of Education and Social Development. That is because it has no idea where 16-17 year olds have come from – mind you the MSD has no idea when people leave the country either and are paying thousands each week to ex-pats who they think are in NZ, but have never checked.

The government will also fund community and other organisations to provide comprehensive and concentrated support.

In fact the Government has been doing this for years through programmes like Training Opportunites – but while funded for training, it is measured on employment outcomes, so the policy design wasn’t the best as if they were fully trained and didn’t get work the outcome was less positive. But it is very similar to what Key announced today. Government funding would go to organisations to 'transition' in to work or training, perhaps by building skills or training, but assessed on employment outcomes.

The implication is that these teens do not have a competent adult in their lives to manage their money and to assist them to get ahead in life. So these support providers in community groups will be these competent adults, and in some cases will pay their bills from their benefits and help them get into education, training and work – or the Ministry of Social Development will do it.

Actually, the MSD can pay money for bills for young people directly out of benefits - So why isn’t it?

Further, young people who are receiving these payments will have clear obligations, for example; to attend budgeting or parenting programmes.

WINZ offers budgeting advice. Why aren’t these young people being referred to it? Why is National announcing policy that, in part, it can implement now, but isn’t to a significant degree?

Key says “you measure a society by how it looks after its most vulnerable. You also measure a society by how many vulnerable people it creates”.

Obviously, the more vulnerable people a society creates, the harder that society has to work to look after its most vulnerable. But if “competent adults” are to be place alongside vulnerable teens, God help us if these people are WINZ case managers or similar.

Key said we can’t continue to give young beneficiaries money and trust they will do the right things with it. That approach has not worked.

So can we trust WINZ case managers to do the right thing for all vulnerable teens on benefits, and offer budgeting advice, training opportunities, and bill payments out of benefits?

No policy or legislative change is necessary – just the ability to implement and evaluate it - and tweak it further. It appears they are doing the latter only.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Why is the Government paying benefits to those who have left the country?

About 7400 are no longer receiving benefits after failing to reapply for their benefit after 12 months and the government is saying it is a $3.5m saving. ( update its a $9.5m saving now ). According to media reports:
Half of the people who were now off it did not reapply. Of the other half, 2000 were already in work, 1400 had left the county, were in study or failed the work test.
We don’t have any idea how many were studying or how many failed the work test as the Prime Minister didn’t say and nobody appeared to ask him.

But a lot of people must have been were getting benefits they were not entitled to - like the 1400 who had left the country, and WINZ apparently had no idea that they had left the country. It’s their job to have an idea.

If thousands didn’t reapply, should they have been getting it at all? Some were in work, some had left the country. If they had left the country three months earlier, who is the benefit being paid to before it is cancelled? If they were in work, are the overpayments going to be recovered?

In such cases, while WINZ should be told if there are changes that affect benefits, shouldn’t case managers be keeping tabs on their ”clients” to ensure they are paying correct entitlements, and cutting off benefits shortly after they go to work/overseas – not months later.

John Key said it could be assumed that the people who did not reapply were in work. Yet he has no idea how many of those who did not reapply were in prison, studying, formed a new relationship, or had left the country.

So this is not a $3.5m (or $9m) “saving” – this is merely $3.5m saving less overspending, less an undisclosed amount of unrecovered overpayments paid before the benefits were cancelled.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Inside the mind of the confused Jordan Williams of Vote for Change: "I believe that democracy is not about representation"

Jordan Williams is not opposed to voting for MMP in certain circumstances

Last time I looked, we lived in a representative democracy, that is to say, a type of democracy in which citizens delegate authority to elected representatives. These representatives sit in a House of Representatives and democratically represent us. We democratically elect them.

But don’t tell former Green Party member Jordan Williams that. The spokesperson for anti-MMP group Vote for Change thinks that democracy is about something other than representation, namely accountability, and he explained it to us briefly at a meeting tonight. At least, he tried to.

Basically he thinks that MMP is about representation and First Past the Post is about accountability – and given that the Supplementary Member electoral system is so similar to FPP, he thinks that it is about accountability too, and therefore democratic, but we are not sure to what extent because Supplementary Member has ugly list seats that he thinks are the “fundamental flaw of MMP”, but not SM.

Williams thinks list seats are so bad, he says that “a vote for MMP is a vote for shutting down debate” despite the fact that it Is a vote to opening up the debate as to what type of MMP system we would like.

But he thinks democracy is about accountability, which is why he likes First Past the Post, says he prefers Supplementary Member, and thinks that a select committee system under these two electoral systems – essentially a rubber stamping exercise - is about accountability – as in unbridled power.

So it is no wonder that Vote for Change, which now has just five supportershas not decided on which electoral system it is supporting, even though most prefer Supplementary Member.

It has a spokesperson that is supposed to oppose MMP, but the confusing thing is that, despite opposing MMP, Williams says if there was a referendum at the 2014 election between MMP and STV ( Single Transferable Vote) he may even vote MMP (the system he says shuts down debate) even though STV ( a system he refuses to debate benefits of) has no list seats. Williams is undecided. “I don’t know which way I’d vote,” he says.

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Political play with playcentres

Education Minister Anne Tolley said today that there is no risk to Playcentre funding, following the release of the independent ECE Taskforce report.

Many of those involved in Playcentres have been kicking up a stink, since the report was released on 1 June, saying that they will be losing up to 70% of funding as per the taskforce report.

Tolley said last month such claims were scaremongering, but didn't say why. Perhaps she didn't know why. So why she waited until today, more than two months after the ECE report was issued, and four days before consultation ends, to issue her media release is beyond me. Perhaps it was because John Key said on the radio that he has no idea why the taskforce recommended Playcentre funding should be cut.

Yesterday in Parliament, Tolley was asked whether Playcentre funding cuts will be ruled out. She didn’t appear to know.

She was told today that they are ruled out. Submissions to the ECE Taskforce close on Monday, but many have already submitted that they did not want Playcentre funding cut. Bit of a shambles all round, really.

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