Future Lefts - Budget Blather & Frothing Fundies
14th June 2004
Budget Blather and Frothing Fundamentalists
In this Edition:
1. Editiorial - What Lies Beneath, a closer look
at the budget
2. Article - Another Brick in the Wall, more budget
3. Article - Steve Maharey Was Right: The Polarisation of Family Policy Debate in New Zealand.
4. Article - Danger: Faith-Based Initiatives. Is Centre-Right Welfare
5. Policy A Threat to Lesbians and Gay Men?
6. Website of the Week - Thanks for destroying my faith in Social Democracy Tony
Editorial: What Lies Beneath
The May 2004 Budget was primarily significant not for the large- scale funding it put into programmes aimed at delivering greater social equality, but rather for what that package of assistance says about the principles that drive the fifth Labour government, and the possibilities that now lie open.
Labour has always been defined by its approach to Social Security – naturally it is our policy towards those at the bottom of the heap that will differentiate us from the political right. The First Labour government is remembered for establishing the Welfare state, the second for the Black Budget (the additional tax revenue of which was used to extend social security programmes promised in the 1957 election), the third for bold extensions such as the establishment of ACC and the DPB, and the Fourth for undermining what had been created by it's predecessors through an attack on established tenets such as full employment as a primary economic goal.
This Fifth Labour government has (debatably) until this point been plagued by an uneasy sense that there is no underlying approach to policy making in this area. Many have been critical that in between waffly sounding Third-wayish soundbites, $450 000 pilot programmes in the South Waikato, and a slightly unclear push to engage with Maori, Local Government, Youth et al, there has been no clear marker of what Labour actually believes when it comes to Social Security.
Is this criticism fair? Well, in the first instance, it ignores a solid list of government achievements that mark this Labour administration out as basically being classically social democratic - compassionate, believing in the power of the state for good, moderately redistributive, and incrementalist in nature. Think about the restoration of pensions at 65% of the average wage, income related rents, the re-nationalisation of ACC, or the establishment of free or cheap primary health care, and you begin to build a picture. Yet the problem with simply being able to reel off achievements is that there is no lasting change. If there is one thing that we can be certain of, it is that in one fell swoop, each one of those important policies would be fed through the National Party hatchet machine and come out the other end as a $9.65 per week tax cut for your average punter.
What cannot simply be done away with is a unifying idea, and the criticism that this has been lacking to date is largely reasonable. If the idea has been there, it's been a secret idea, kept under wraps for fear that the neighbours might find out and think we're commies or something. The programme to date which has unpicked the excesses of the nineties, restored the basic capacity of government, and implemented a range of measures to improve the material lot of those at the bottom and in the middle. A Labour government needs to do more however. Our role is, as it ever was to provide the over- arching ideas which will survive longer than the term of any government, and actually change the way people think. The welfare stare established by that first Labour government is of course the perfect example – even had the Tories of the mid-century had the will to tear it down block by egalitarian block, it is doubtful that New Zealanders would have let them. Policies can be undone – not ideas.
That brings us back to the current Labour government and last week's budget. In this we are presented with a clear overarching idea, and it is different to the ideas that have come before. It is a shift away from the dichotomy of the past. The welfare state of the 1930s to the 1980s was famously proclaimed as "allowing each citizen to reach their full potential" through a comprehensive system of cradle to the grave support. The welfare system grudgingly allowed by the neo-liberals was a cynical pressure valve – an absolute safety net designed to avert total and costly social crisis. The vision outlined in the budget, and more comprehensively by Steve Maharey subsequently is not just something in between these two options, but a quite different paradigm.
It picks up on the core Christian Socialist principles of the earlier system, acknowledging the essential worthiness of each individual, and their right to make a contribution whether through childcare or paid work. The right all to a basic standard of living is re-affirmed – slipping into poverty is no longer a punishment for failing in the market society that rational and motivated individuals should avoid (although it is clear that further work is needed here). Importantly, the role of the state in ensuring these things is again emphasised in the Working for Families package. In fact it is here that Maharey builds on what came before and develops new ideas.
Indeed, Social Security as envisioned in this budget is about a more active state than anything put into place by that First Labour government. Here is the state revealed as an agent of emancipation. Not just a passive agent that sets a generous floor below which no citizen can fall, but actually using its powers to actively provide opportunity. That comes through active state agencies that work with individuals, employers, and community agencies to develop the skills that someone needs to move into fulfilling work. It comes through initiatives like the Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs whereby local and central government work together to ensure that every young person has the opportunity to be in work, training or education. And in this budget it comes through recognition that even though Mum and Dad may be middle class and employed, they may still need some extra assistance to give their kids the opportunities that they deserve.
Next month we will look at what the next steps might be. Some suggestions being bandied about include some concrete targets for reducing child poverty, and an activist approach to promoting home ownership – leading perhaps to a property owning (social) democracy?? Your thoughts on where Labour needs to head to now are welcomed.
In fact, anyone of the progressive left is most welcome to provide feedback on this edition, or a contribution for the next. In recognition of past failures to meet deadlines, we'll now be publishing monthly, but that will mean something a little meatier each time. In this edition we have excellent contributions on the budget, and two pieces about the threat posed to our traditional family structure and basic rights by the deviant conservative right. They really do have a hidden agenda you know.
Till then, all decent progressive folk are urged to do anything they can to support the passage of the Civil Union Bill which will receive its first reading in just a fortnight. Contact: email@example.com if you're not involved and you want to be.
Young Labour President.
Budget 2004: Another Brick In The Wall
Thursday 27 May marked the announcement of the most significant improvement in the living standards of low income families in New Zealand in well over 30 years. The key element in Michael Cullen's 2004 Budget, the Working for Families package, targets the dividend of competent economic management to those who need it most: the 300,000 families who have children and who are towards the bottom of the income ladder. By the time it is fully rolled out, the package will benefit approximately 1,000,000 people – about a quarter of New Zealand's population.
Working for Families is another stage in the progressive development of New Zealand's economy and society that has been a hallmark of the fifth Labour government. A profound commitment to social liberalism and economic progress are at the core of what modern social democracy stands for, and this is reflected in the agenda of the government. Healing the deep scars of fifteen years of neo-liberal economic management was never going to be easy, and nor was it going to be quick. The government is to be applauded for the fact that it is prepared to take on such a messy task in the first place – and all the more strongly for its success in making the changes in direction it has made so far.
The great opening of New Zealand's society and economy in the 1980s always had to happen. Colin James has characterised it as New Zealand's independence revolution, and there is a good deal of merit in that argument. National's Polish-shipyard-like approach to the economy under the menacing Robert Muldoon was not sustainable. It failed economically, because it failed to respond to the great changes in the world and in our own economic structure but sought instead to ignore and suppress those changes. It failed socially, because it was stuck in a monocultural reification of the 1950s. It failed politically, because it was too narrowly drawn in the range of interests it sought to uphold and promote. Society was nearly torn apart by ever-nastier wedge politics, perhaps best exemplified by the Springbok Tour confrontation in 1981. It was a visionless, passionless model of economic and social development that had passed its used-by date years earlier.
Perhaps New Zealand's greatest political tragedy of the 20th century is that this vital change, this opening, was done wrong: it went too fast, it went too far, and it was unbalanced and extreme in all the areas where any reasonable person would have expected Government to seek balance and moderation. It seems now, in retrospect, almost deliberately designed to shaft the most vulnerable people in society as hard and as fast as possible. We all know the results of the right-wing approach to economic management which came to an end in 1999. It threw the baby out with the bathwater. Commendable openness and liberalism did not have to be paired with aggressive attacks on producers or workers, or the welfare system. Reform didn't have to be imposed so fast; the poorest and most vulnerable didn't have to wear the pain and the price of the change on their own. There were always alternatives. This sorry story is, unfortunately, now a part of our history – and one which cannot be undone or disowned by Labour or by National.
In a sense, Labour's mission since 1999 has been to bring an end to the madness; to start to heal the wounds. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the gallery during the reading of the budget speech, and it is the first time I can recall where there were cheers and hoots of support from Government members in support of Cullen's speech.
This was an historic change of pace on the road to the good society, and it was good. It felt good. Post-Budget celebrations were cheerful and upbeat – we knew we were making a real difference for the better.
What is most significant about the Budget is not its specifics, welcome as they are. Its significance lies in its status as the clearest statement yet of Labour's vision in government – not the first such presentation, but the clearest. Insofar as it builds on the four prior budgets from 1999, it forms another brick in the wall of social democracy. It demonstrates that Labour today is a mainstream social democratic party, delivering policies to build a more equal society in which all people can participate, regardless of how rich they are. It is absolutely right to be doing so. It is a Budget that is part of a vision for the future of this country which commands considerable public support, and flows from enduring values that come from the mainstream of New Zealand life.
Most importantly, it can only be understood in the context above. Without knowing where the country has come from, the progress so far could be underestimated, criticised for being inadequate, or condemned for being too slow. When one considers all that has gone before, the scale of change becomes a little clearer. In a country that suffered so much, it takes a long time for things to heal and begin to grow again.
In some ways this is far removed from day-to-day electoral politics, but in others it is not. As we run up to the next general election in 2005, this budget – like the other bricks in the wall – signals to voters the priorities and values that Labour supports and upholds in government: fairness, equality, opportunity and the guarantee that those whose lives are otherwise put on the scrap-heap by the market society have a role to play in the future of the country. The challenge remains: to articulate the agenda more and more clearly in the future, to persuade voters it is the direction to take the country, and to win the election victories required to advance it.
9 June 2004
Steve Maharey Was Right: The Polarisation of Family Policy Debate in New Zealand.
by Craig Young
In early December 2003, Hon. Steve Maharey, the Minister of Social Services, gave an excellent defence of family diversity and pluralism in a speech at a conference about "Strengthening Families." Predictably, the Christian Right and elements of the centre-right denounced him for uttering thought crimes against 'family values' dogma.
It should be noted that Maharey didn't mention same-sex-led families in his speech, presumably because we aren't seen as a source of social pathology in centre-left pluralist family policies. Unfortunately, Statistics New Zealand are causing difficulties with their intransigence over economic data about sexual orientation and gender identity issues. That said, the US Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies carries some useful data about same-sex relationships and families on its website.
To be sure, not all of the centre-right have lined up behind this sectarian religious agenda. Jim Peron (Institute for Liberal Values) has defended proposed civil union and relationship equality legislation, while ACT's Heather Roy made some intelligent and perceptive comments about human parthenogenesis and its implications for lesbian parenting. Don Brash and Katherine Rich haven't specifically attacked same-sex parenting either, which leads to some speculation about their approach to this question. Brash and Rich might have decided that they do not want to be seen as populist social conservatives, or buy a fight with an articulate lesbian and gay community or electoral constituency.
Family policy has become a political faultline. Labour and the Greens support the welfare state and family diversity. They argue that social service cutbacks are to blame for family disintegration. This sounds reasonable to me. It would be logical to assume that underfunded detox services, family violence and child protection agencies, child health programmes and remedial education would have had some destructive cumulative and interactive results. If mass unemployment, benefit inadequacy and other social malaises are left unchallenged, families disintegrate, regardless of church weddings. It is no use to blame solo mums, feminists or lesbian and gay parents for the interactive and cumulative impact of destructive economic and social policies.
As I have noticed, the New Zealand centre-right is a mixed bag. Surprisingly, United Future is on the side of the angels this time, as they supported the Social Security Amendment Bill's abolition of work readiness testing for solo mums, and their Families Commission Bill does try to assist all low income families, regardless of family structure. Inconsistently, they also insist that two-parent heterosexual nuclear families should be seen as the "norm."
National and ACT are on the other side of this debate, albeit internally divided. As I noted above, Brash and Rich have not attacked same-sex-led families, presumably because there is no respectable social scientific evidence that associates same-sex parenting and welfare benefit claimant status. It is striking that the fall of Bill English and Nick Smith has silenced sectarian religious pontification about enforcement of discriminatory family policies from their party. Unfortunately, Deputy Leader Brownlee may fall into the same trap. I suspect that the Nats will imitate early nineties pragmatism and allow its social liberal contingent to speak out, allaying any concerns about social conservative takeovers.
Unfortunately, ACT New Zealand and New Zealand First are on the hard right of this argument. Without any credible direct evidence- based research, Newman has repeatedly attacked same-sex-led families on no reputable social scientific grounds. Furthermore, she has strange fantasies about forcing solo mums to get married, temporary welfare benefits and amended family violence legislation, so that men can interfere with spouses and children who are trying to escape from abusive and violent relationships. Oh, and wicked socialists are trying to undermine western civilisation through opposing discrimination against same-sex relationships and families.
Whatever their views about our families, the centre-right seems unified on scapegoating solo mums as the root of all social evil. Labour and the Greens reject these moral panic tactics and point out that if solo mums do have parenting troubles, it is attributable to prior income cutbacks from earlier benefit cuts and reduced household income, not their own family structure, except insofar as discriminatory family policy and legislation are concerned. They question "marriage movement" research for methodological defects that are all too familiar from debates over research on same-sex-led families.
We should insure that the Christian Right is not allowed to make any further unsubstantiated claims about same-sex relationships and parenting, and challenge Newman, Winston Peters and its other parliamentary chorus when they spout their propaganda.
It is not family structure that leads to family disintegration, but complex interaction of social and economic factors that undermine parenting and family economic security. New Zealand lesbians and gay men need to realise that this is the current context for New Zealand family policy debates, but fortunately, it is a pluralist and nuanced one.
If you want balanced, evidence-based responses to Christian Right propaganda against same-sex relationship and parenting equality and family diversity, then try these websites:
Alternatives to Marriage Project:
Council on Contemporary Families:
Council on One-Parent Families:
Institute of Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies:
Steve Maharey's address is entitled "Building Strong Relationships to Strengthen Families and Whanau:"
Danger: Faith-Based Initiatives. Is Centre-Right Welfare Policy A Threat to Lesbians and Gay Men?
by Craig Young
The Christian Right isn't only interested in issues like obstruction of lesbian and gay spousal and parenting equality. In the United States, it has branched out into privatised community welfare provision.
These measures are called "faith-based initiatives" and they are controversial. In 1996, Clinton and the US federal Republican Congress presided over privatisation of central government social welfare functions, which were handed over wholesale to voluntary sector community welfare organisations. These moves aroused considerable opposition when George W.Bush won the US federal election in December 2000, and threatened to introduce augmented versions of his Texas "faith-based initiatives."
As their name suggests, "faith-based initiatives" are defined as handing central government funds to religious social service providers. In the case of mainline Christian and Jewish social service agencies, one can be sure that there is competent management and professional expertise available to provide quality community services to clients. However, Bush relaxed funding and eligibility restrictions when he implemented faith-based initiatives in Texas. As a consequence, there were fundamentalist rorts like the Roelefs Homes, where a fundamentalist child welfare certification agency was established to certify an abusive childrens home provider as fit for business. In another case, a fundamentalist antidrug "ministry" got funds for praying over its clients, and didn't provide adequate rehabilitation or detoxification services for them. In January 2004, the US exgay group "Exodus" applied for federal funding to run its gay conversion efforts as a 'faith-based' programme.
Fortunately, the Bush administration hasn't got a free ride when it comes to implementing faith-based initiatives at the federal level. In 2001, the federal Bush administration established a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to coordinate efforts across federal education, health, housing, justice and employment cabinet portfolios. In 2001, the US House of Representatives made charitable contributions tax-deductible, but US Senate and House of Representatives have clashed over this provision. In 2002, Bush tried to circumvent this through administrative regulations, although the measure has been reintroduced last year in the US Senate.
Why are US lesbian and gay community organisations, humanist, and even libertarian groups, so concerned about this measure? Apart from issues of funding accountability to central government, faith-based initiatives are able to discriminate on the bases of sexual orientation, political opinion and marital status in the contexts of hiring, staffing and board management. Fortunately, they are prohibited from similar discrimination to vulnerable clients, and are also prevented from trying to convert them to their particular religious philosophy.
Unlike New Zealand, the United States has no federal anti-discrimination legislation that comprehensively bans discrimination in the provision of employment, goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation. In New Zealand, religious organisations are free to choose gender or sexual orientation of their candidates for ordination, but antigay conservative religious individuals are forbidden from discriminating on the basis of employment, goods and services provision if they run a secular business, or provide accommodation.
The New Zealand Christian Right must be prevented from presenting these proposals to any future centre-right government if that means impaired service provision and/or relaxation of stringent anti-discrimination compliance. As for the National Party and ACT, they need to clarify what their stance on faith-based initiatives is.
Amy Black and David Ryden: Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W.Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives: Washington DC: Georgetown University Press: 2004.
Joanne Formicola, Mary Segers and Paul Weber: The Faith-Based Initiatives and the Bush Administration: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield: 2003: (see esp. p.63-184).
Pew Forum: Backgrounder on Faith-Based Initiatives: http://pewforum.org/faith-based-initiatives/
Ira Chernus: "The Dark Side of Faithbased Initiatives:"
Alex Epstein: "Bush's Faithbased Initiative Against Freedom" (1.02.03): http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=1472
Kevin Eckstrom: "Gays Express Concern about Bush's Faith-Based Initiative:" http://www.belief.net/story/66/story_6635.html
Michael Kress: "Separation of Church and Gay:" http://www.beliefnet.com/story/74/story_7435.html
National Lesbian and Gay Task Force: George W Watch: Faith- Based Initiatives: http://www.ngltf.org/federal/wwfaith.htm
"Exgay group applies for federal funding"
Website of the Week
How you know you're not a social democrat any more:
(think of a creative message).
Future Lefts 2004 (c)
The views expressed above are solely those of the authors and do not represent the official policy of Young Labour or the NZLP. Not even close.
That should cover it.
Editor: Michael Wood - firstname.lastname@example.org