Family First wants more regulation – again

I generally agree with Family First on most issues. But Bob McCoskrie does seem to like regulation too much sometimes in my mind. After calling for more bureaucratic hoops to jump through before you can put up a billboard, he is now criticising the Government’s plan to allow workers to choose whether to have their fourth week of annual leave or get a cash bonus instead.

Family First’s press release states:

Family First NZ says that cash payment provisions on the 4 week of annual leave proposed by the government will harm family time as the temptation to have immediate cash will be too great to resist for some families.

Sounds reasonable, but what does he actually identify as the real problem:

“Poll after poll has shown that both parents and children want to spend more time together doing family things like picnics and holidays together. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as the retail industry is required to work almost every day of the year, and other industries expand to six and even seven days per week.” …

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, New Zealanders work longer than any other nationality, apart from the Japanese. 21% of NZ workers work more than 50 hours a week. In most EU countries the number of people working 50 hours or more per work remains well under 10%. Just over 1% workers in the Netherlands work longer hours, while only 6% in Greece and Ireland do so. In Australian and American the rate is 20%.

If the big problem is number of days worked per week, and hours per day, how do statutory holidays affect this?

If you assume the same amount of work still has to be done, people will just have to work harder every other week, so will have less time to spend with their children for most of the year. Frankly, I’d prefer having a few extra hours with my son each week than getting one extra week’s holiday to try and make up for the time I missed with him during the year.

But that should be my own choice. This is a non-issue.

There are very important things that Family First does point out – this week in their email (which you can sign up for here) we have the smacking issue reigniting, informed choice on vaccinations, the EU banning the use of “Miss” and “Mrs”, and other interesting stuff. Family First is a great lobby group, if you aren’t signed up for their emails yet do it today.

I just sometimes wish they’d pick their battles more carefully.

Sir Roger Douglas’ economic plan

Now I won’t say I agree with every detail of his plan, but Douglas certainly seems to understand why we are in the mess we are in better than any other politician.

As voters, we seem to have bought the false notion that we can all be made wealthy through government. Elections have become an opportunity for politicians to promise they will take more money off you, only to give it back to you in another way – a gold card for superannuitants, a tax credit for working families, or an interest write off for students. If we each pretend that we can be made wealthy through taxing others, then we’re destined for poverty. We are increasingly relying on others – be they foreign lenders or domestic taxpayers – to sustain our way of life.

You don’t hear that sort of straight talking every day from politicians!

Douglas’ plan is to set up an alternative taxation system that you can opt into – with low taxes but you must pay for your own health care and superannuation – or you can stay in the current system. There would certainly be practical problems with maintaining two separate systems alongside each other (such as having some people eligable for state-funded healthcare while others are not), but it is an intriguing idea, and a good contrast with National’s plan. Read his full plan here.

On the tax side, he is proposing a tax-free threshold of $30,000 for individuals, $50,000 for families, and 15% taxation above that, with a flat 15% tax rate for business. That would really draw industry back into the country.

But there is a big “marriage tax” in there – note that if you have two single incomes your tax-free threshold is collectively $60,000, while if you marry it is now only $50,000 (plus a certain amount per child). It would be far better to have a $60,000 tax-free threshold for families, and not incentivise family breakdown. You should never subsidise something unless you want more of it.

On the welfare side, he is proposing:

To ensure that families are able to adequately provide for themselves, there will be a guaranteed minimum income for families. The guaranteed minimum income will ensure that, should they find themselves earning less than the tax-free threshold, families will receive a tax credit to boost their income.

The problem with this is that there is little incentive to work at all – it is unclear but reads like you have a guaranteed tax-free income of $50,000 (inflation adjusted to boot), which you can live on quite comfortably especially if you don’t have the expenses of having a job (fuel to get to work, work clothes etc). Even if you have to be doing some work to get it, there is little incentive to work more than a couple of hours a week. It is only for families, but if you don’t have to be married to call yourself a family it could be claimed by flatmates – this is far higher than the student allowance!

A guaranteed minimum income is a simple way of providing a welfare safety net, however having it set so high is likely to be a strong disincentive to work. Or you can work, and still get your free money. Consider this scenario.

  • You have no job, and are surviving on government handouts.
  • A farmer takes pity on your family, gives you free accommodation in a spare house, free use of a work vehicle and as much produce as you can eat.
  • Out of gratitude you “help him out” on the farm.

It’s a win-win situation:

  • You get almost all your expenses for free and pocket most of your welfare money, effectively earning far more than most farm workers.
  • The farmer gets a cheap worker.

It is impossible to completely avoid such fraud, but it would help if the “guaranteed minimum income” were set at a level of basic subsistence, to provide for those out of work while encouraging them to actually get a job. Requiring a couple to be married to qualify would help the money go to genuine families, although people could marry just to get the cash. Giving part of it in food or accommodation vouchers would help to discourage fraud, although not prevent it. It would also help if you only lost 50c of your tax credits for every dollar you earned – meaning even if you can only get a part-time job you will still end up with more cash in the hand, rather than working hard and ending up with the same pay as if you did nothing.

So Douglas’ plan needs some work, in my opinion. But it offers a good alternative perspective to National’s current big spending plans, and I hope Key is willing to listen and incorporate some of Douglas’ ideas.

Value Your Vote

Family First has launched a new website: Value Your Vote. It lists how each of the party leaders has voted on moral issues over the past few years, and ranks them on how “family friendly” they are, according to which way Family First feels is more “family friendly”. This is a pretty blunt measure as it gives each issue equal weighting, but is very interesting nevertheless.

Surprisingly, Winston Peters comes out top, at 77% family friendly. Helen Clark is worst, scored as only 8% family friendly, even worse than Jeanette Fitzsimons.

The worst two scores are both left-wing (Labour and Green), but other left-wing parties (Maori and Progressive) haven’t scored too badly. In general the centre parties (NZ First and United Future) come out top, with the right (National and Act) not doing too badly.

Unfortunately this chart doesn’t include parties not currently in parliament of course, as they haven’t voted on these issues. As far as I can see, based on policy, The Family Party would top the list at 100% had we been in parliament.

Wedding on a budget

If you get the Herald on Sunday, you might have noticed this article, on having a wedding on a tight budget, and a second article on the example of our wedding, with a nice photo of my wife Sarah and myself. Alice Hudson points out that:

While reports say the average Kiwi wedding costs $19,000, the budget crisis is forcing couples to go to great lengths to keep costs down – and hopefully still afford a worthwhile honeymoon.

Some engaged couples, such as Christchurch’s David Moyle and fiancee Kelly, have decided to put off their nuptials indefinitely.

They’ve told prospective guests “We couldn’t afford to have a wedding and a baby”.

This situation is quite common. People are choosing to live together rather than getting married because of the perceived cost of a wedding. This is very unfortunate, because marriage forces you to actually think about whether you are prepared to stick together for the rest of your lives, and provide a stable home to raise children in. It is on the other hand easy to start living with someone to “see how it goes”, end up having children and realise later that you aren’t prepared to stick together. However high the divorce rate gets, defacto relationships still split up more than marriages, and when this happens it is terribly hard on children. Marriage is important as it forces you to think about the future rather than just going with the flow.

But weddings don’t have to be expensive. You can of course get married in the registry office for a couple of hundred dollars. But even a fancy wedding doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Our wedding cost around $5-$6000, which got us (with a lot of very generous help from friends and family):

  • A lovely church in the country, that could take 200 guests
  • Wedding dress, bridesmaids dresses, suit hire, flowers
  • A professional photographer
  • Custom-made rings (we invested in these as they and the photos are the only things you keep from the day).
  • A Rolls-Royce and an Armstrong Siddeley for wedding cars (borrowed from friends and family)
  • An afternoon tea for 200 guests in a country hall (catered for by the local netball club)
  • A professionally iced wedding cake (baked by my mother)
  • …. etc etc.

You don’t need to spend $19,000 for a lovely wedding! I cannot think how our day could have been better. Having an afternoon tea instead of a reception meal was great as we could invite everyone (including the extra people who happen to turn up to the wedding on the day) along, rather than having to make a short list of “special” guests and offending those on the fringes of the list who get left off… The fancier you want it though, the more help you need from family and friends.

Our snazzy wedding!

Our snazzy wedding!

If you want to get married, go for it! It doesn’t have to cost the earth. Marriage is the best thing you’ll ever do. Don’t worry too much about the wedding, the wedding is unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Getting married is about the Marriage, which lasts the rest of your life, NOT about the one-day wedding. Big difference. Focus on making the marriage work. Do a pre-marriage course, it is the best investment you’ll ever make, Marriage Ministries does great courses through churches throughout the country – if I can only offer one piece of advice, that would be it.

P.S. The article says we were married on January 14, and have a 3 month old baby, which could give quite the wrong impression if someone thought it meant January 2008 rather than January 2006!

Police get tasers

The police will be issued tasers. This is a controversial move but is a good one overall.

We live in an increasingly violent society. Despite what you might think from the movies, New Zealand’s overall violent crime rate is over twice that of the USA, and Auckland’s violent crime rate is comparable to that of American cities such as Washington DC.*

Police are confronted with violent offenders on our streets. They need to be able to protect themselves and everyone else.

At present they can use a baton, pepper spray, or a gun. In an extremely violent situation, they will be forced to shoot an offender. Police are reluctant to shoot anyone in NZ because the media generally comes down like a ton of bricks on that however well justified, and whatever harm the police may have prevented by shooting an offender will be ignored in the hysteria over the fact that a policeman actually shot someone.

With tasers they have a non-lethal option they can resort to, where pepper spray is not effective enough but a gun is unnecessary. This should reduce the number of people who are shot by police.

Many people have serious concerns about tasers. Some people have reportedly died after being tasered. This is unfortunate, and needs to be considered when they are used. However you have a much higher chance of surviving being tasered than you have of surviving being shot. Despite their flaws they do have their place in law enforcement.

Other people are concerned they will be overused by police. It is difficult to define overuse, as for some people even being used once would be considered overuse, but this is a valid concern too. They will be used more often than pistols are used, because as they are (generally) non-lethal police will be less hesitant to use them than they currently are to use a firearm, for the reasons outlined above. This may act as a deterrant to criminals and reduce overall crime rates, so will not necessarily be a bad thing. However often they are used, someone will be able to use the figures to say this is overuse and someone else will be able to say they are not using them enough. “Overuse” is a matter of perception.

If we are concerned the police may not use weapons appropriately, we cannot approach this by not giving them weapons just in case they use them. We must instead ensure they are trained appropriately in their use, and if there are problems with police misconduct we must confront these directly, rather than endangering the lives of all police officers and the public because of the alleged misconduct of a few individuals.

It is also important that the taser is not issued instead of firearms, but in addition to them. Police will confront armed offenders sometimes (we have a high rate of gun ownership and it is easy for criminals to obtain weapons), and need the tools to deal with this. Tasers are short-range weapons. If a policeman is encountered by a criminal with a shotgun he needs something more effective at his disposal than a taser. The taser can complement firearms, but not replace them.

Tasers, pepperspray and firearms are all last resort tools to stop criminals in the act of committing crimes. In order to actually reduce crime rates we must do much more than just issue tasers. We need to look at the root causes of crime – which often comes back to the family. Children from broken families, especially when the father is absent, are much more likely to get into crime than children raised by both parents. We need to strengthen families, and stop crimes from occurring in the first place, as well as providing police with the tools to deal with crime as it is occuring.

Unfortunately recent laws around discipline (the s59 amendment makes both smacking and physical restraint for punishment, such as a “naughty mat”, illegal) are likely to decrease discipline in the home, increasing crime rates in the future. We must support families, rather than undermining them, if we wish to change our escalating crime rates.

Our Law and Order and Family policies would do just this, confronting both the causes of crime and the crime itself.

And if you are still worried about tasers – don’t break the law!

* “Gun Shy” – Investigate Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 77, June 2007, p42-49

Violent crime rates 2005:

  • USA: 469.2 offences per 100,000 population
  • New Zealand: 1,180 offences per 100,000 population.
  • Washington DC: 1,459 / 100,000
  • Auckland: 1,236 / 100,000
  • Counties Manukau police district: 1,621 / 100,000