Episode #26: The Labour Party is Not Your Friend — Budget 2019 SPECIAL EPISODE

We’re very please to release a special episode dedicated to why the Labour Party is not your friend. This is a deep-dive into Budget 2019, the so-called “Wellbeing Budget”.

We interview 6 educators, agitators and organisers about why this budget falls woefully short. A full transcript is available on peoplespolitburo.com.

First, we talk to Ben Rosamond from the primary teachers’ union NZEI. Ben outlines why teachers are angry af about this budget and the current crisis in education. He also spills the tea about the teachers’ strike and the struggle going forward.

Then, we sit down with Nadia Abu-Shanab, who is an early childhood teacher and new mum. Nadia outlines the very real danger that children are placed in because of the chronic under-funding of early childhood education. She makes an important feminist case for why we need free, universal early childhood education in Aotearoa. P.s. Nadia was the kween who wrote that letter with Justine to Lorde: thespinoff.co.nz/society/12-10-20…letter-to-lorde/

A little awkwardly, our third “guest” is Ti Lamusse: SH People’s Politburo panelist, socialist, homosexualist, and researcher in criminal justice issues. Ti discusses how Labour is prioritising imprisonment over housing and why this was not a Wellbeing Budget for impoverished communities.

Our fourth guest is Vanessa Cole, a formidable housing researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Auckland. Vanessa talks about how the housing announcements aren’t nearly enough to address the housing crisis and chronic homelessness.

Then we talk with Anna Sturman (PhD candidate at USyd) about how the Wellbeing Budget fundamentally fails to deal with climate change. Anna does an incredible job outlining the political economy of climate change and why we can’t fund our way out of disaster. Anna is a member of the Australian-based Climate Justice Collective. You can find out more here: climatejusticeaustralia.org/

Finally, our returning champion and ASMR expert, Ricardo Menéndez March lays down some truths about welfare. Ricardo demonstrates how the Wellbeing Budget dooms hundreds of thousands of people to continuing poverty because of low benefit rates.

From this collective analysis, the Politburo concludes that the Labour Party is absolutely not your friend.

If you like the show and want it to continue, please support us on our Patreon. This particular episode cost about 3x more than a usual episode to produce so please send us some $$$ to top up our very low balance. We need your support to keep this project going long-term. www.patreon.com/peoplespolitburo

 

Full episode transcript available below:

 

Opening

T: Welcome to this very special episode of SHPP. I’m Ti.

E: I’m Emmy.

J: I’m Justine.

T: And, in this special episode, we are talking about the 2019 NZ Budget. And that might sound boring as fuck, but you know what, it’s all about why the Labour Party is not your friend.

E: Yep. It’s an entire episode just about why the Labour Party is not your friend.

T: So what we’ve got in this special episode is we’re talking to a whole bunch of experts in fields relating to the budget, so on climate change, on criminal justice, on healthcare, on education – really important issues – to help us understand what’s going on, and why this budget is another example of the fact that the Labour Party is not your friend.

J: Yeah. So some of the feedback we’ve gotten back about the “Labour Party Is Not Your Friend” segment, specifically from my mum…

E: [laughs]

J: Yeah, she’s a big Jacinda fan. She says that I don’t have substantial arguments against the Labour Party. Now, of course, I do, it’s that she doesn’t wanna hear them. But we thought, why not devote an entire episode to systematically deconstructing how the Labour Party is continuing neoliberalism in NZ despite promising to be a transformational government to everybody, and to look after the wellbeing of working class NZers. So that’s what we’re really excited to do today. Because budgets don’t really get enough attention! I mean, they get attention in sort of the Beltway politics, but it’s not something that I think I’ve really thought about a lot over the years, until I went into postgrad education. So I think it needs to become more accessible, it needs to be broken down, and people need to talk about the actual implications of how this affects everyday people and our lives. And that’s what we’re gonna try do.

T: I can’t relate to the whole “budget not being interesting” thing. When I was living in Australia, I shit you not, both years I was living in Canberra, I went to the budget readings because I was that much of a nerd.

E: [laughs] You’re a little policy twink!

T: It was a highlight for me! And at one stage I was dating this dude who was high up in the left faction of the Labour Party, and I got access to the caucus room on budget day…

E: Oh my god.

T: Anyway, whatever. It was stupid and a waste of time. But the budget is really important. And it has really…. dire implications in some of the spending, and also disappointing implications.

E: Yeah.

J: It limits the fields of political possibility, right? So we’re seeing what is possible for this government, and it’s not good news, guys.

E: Yeah. Even setting aside that there is no guillotine budget whatsoever….

T: [laughs]

E: I think what’s so interesting for me about this budget is that it’s literal textbook neoliberalism in that… this “wellbeing budget” from Jacinda’s new Labour Party is actually using the exact same strategy that Lange and Douglas’s first big neoliberal budget did in this country. And that one condemned generations of NZers to precarity and poverty. So it’s interesting to see the exact same tactics.

T: So what’s interesting about this is how effective, this time around, the government has been at spin.

E: Mmm.

T: Because you have liberals on Twitter right now talking about how they cried when they found out about the details of this budget.

E: Coming fucking undone.

T: They cried because they were so happy! They didn’t cry because they were upset! They cried because they were happy! Because they don’t see this for what it is. Because what it is is a massive increase in the criminal injustice system, it’s– with a couple of exceptions– it does not even get close to funding the public service in a way that meets the current demand. The current need.

E: Which is huge!

T: Yes, there are some good things. 1.9 billion dollars in mental health spending, and a million dollars in spending for rainbow community organisations.

E: Which, you know, we are fans of being gay.

J: We’re very mentally ill gays. [laughs]

E: Exactly.

T: So, like, I get that excitement. But especially the rainbow community organisation, that is textbook third way politics! Which is, you continue the economic consensus of neoliberalism by not increasing core government expenditure – just literally not spending on public service.

E: Which is a slow death by fucking dehydration.

T: Not willing to tax the wealthy. And then, at the same time, throw crumbs – a million dollars is nothing for the government – throwing crumbs at community organisations. So it has the appearance of being progressive. And I don’t wanna play down how important it is, because Rainbow Youth and InsideOUT need this funding desperately, and I don’t wanna downplay how important that is for them.

J: Nor people’s joy at it.

T: No. Absolutely not. It makes absolute sense. But it is part of a very third way messaging campaign for, ultimately, a dead rat. A dead rat with some absolutely beautiful glitter.

J: So we’re essentially calling Emmy out. Because the Labour Party are not social democrats, Emmy. We have our criticisms of social democrats but they are third way neoliberals! [laughs] And we need to call it as it is! If they were social democrats, we could talk about that and I would be elated— no, I’m joking. [laughs] I wanna say something about that, actually, the way the budget is being covered. Because literally the sort of stuff I’m seeing is that they’re spending too much, they’re getting too close to their fiscal parameters.

E: [laughs]

J: And I just wanna poo myself when I read things like that. I do wanna say, yeah, it reflects something else, right? We don’t have critical analysis of what the budget means, how it is a continuation of neoliberalism and third way politics, how it basically sentences our public services by slow death by basically starving them of the resources they need to continue. So I’m wondering, you know, if there’s an issue with the fact that a lot of the news today comes from public relations specialists working out of government, and not actually critical journalists who are willing to crunch the numbers. I mean, why the fuck are three graduate students sitting in a little cupboard doing this work?

T: Absolutely.

J: Why the fuck? Are you fucking joking? But here it is. This is all you guys got.

T: It’s been like this for years, of course. For three or four years now, I’ve been doing basically the number crunching on Corrections budgets because no one else will. And every single year there’s an increase in the Corrections spending, there’s an increase in total prison spending, there’s an increase in spending on building new prisons, but I can tell you that in none of the previous years when I’ve been doing this would have been reported, if it weren’t for the fact that myself and PAPA sent out press releases about it. So even if we didn’t get called up, that’s still the only time, it’s when we do the work to demonstrate to the media that there is a problem here! Because they just don’t do it themselves.

J: And it should not be left up to Ti…

T: [laughs]

J: …to call attention to this, guys! Or us! Do you know how stupid we are?

E: They know. They’re well aware.

J: They’re very well aware. We should not be the ones who are breaking these stories. [laughs] There should be other people.

T: Yeah.

J: No, no, Ti’s very smart. Emmy’s very smart. I’m a dumbass. [laughs]

T: [South African accent] Nah, Justine, you’re smart, eh!!

J: Naw, I’m just trying some self-deprecating humour to get a nice compliment.

T: Aw, it didn’t work well. No. [laughs]

E: We’re not that kind of podcast.

[silence]
T: Wow, we all were so uncomfortable with that moment of self-deprecation that we all kind of shifted, and had this kind of anxious energy. I’m not sure if it came through the mic.

E: What happened to all the well-being that this budget was supposed to be bringing us?
J: I was going to make a roasting joke at all of us, but then I thought, that’s quite rude!

E: I’ll cry!

J: Okay. Okay. You’re very smart:

T: Emmy will be one of those liberals crying…

J: Aw… spilled milk.

E: [laughs]

J: But no, I mean, it does speak to something that it’s like the unpaid labour of graduate students in Sociology [laughs] who are actually doing this work.

T: Yeah. It’s really frustrating.

J: Get on it, Henry Cooke.

T: Yeah….. and other journalists listening. Fucking get on it! But for the journalists listening, and I hope there’ll be some of you, we have interviewed a series of people who will lay out, very very clearly–

J: And concretely.

T: All the ways in which this budget causes harm to marginalised people, to poor people, to Maori people, to Pacific peoples.

J: To me.

T: To Justine personally. And not only does it cause harm through a failed, racist criminal justice system, but also through neglect. Also through an absolute unwillingness to fund public health.

J: And public housing!

E: Yeah. I think what this budget showed is that this government does not, and can not, have the kind of historical vision that’s necessary to solve the social problems that we’re facing. Our GDP in this country is more than 100 billion dollars.

T: Way more.

E: We are barely touching the actual wealth that exists in this country, and we are barely using it to try and address some of the horrible situations we’re in. And we could solve all of these fucking problems! There’s already enough stuff to take care of everybody.

T: But that’s enough from the Politburo. Let’s hear from some experts, organisers, agitators, educators, about these issues.

 

Ben

T: First up, we have Ben Rosamond from NZEI.

B: Hey Ti, how’s it going on?
T: I’m great, thanks Ben! For those of you who don’t know, NZEI is the primary teacher’s union.

B: Correct! NZEI Te Riu Roa is the union for primary teachers, early childhood teachers and support staff in all schools.

T: Cool! And what do you do with NZEI?
B: I’m a field officer. So I work with all the schools in Manurewa and Papakura. And early childhood centers in those areas. And I work with teachers to get them plugged in to campaigns and to feed back their thoughts up to the national level.

T: Awesome. That sounds like a great job.

B: It is. [laughs]

T: So you’re here in a personal capacity, not here representing the union, yeah?

B: Correct. Yeah.

J: It’s very important that we stress that.

B: [laughs] This is a very personal capacity.

J: Ben is here to shitpost. He is not here to field this office. [laughs]

T: When Ben calls for the people of NZ to take arms, that is him talking, not NZEI.

J: And that is Ti talking, not me.

T: And it’s also not Ti talking, it’s Emmy talking.

B: Mainly Emmy. [laughs]

T: I’m just projecting onto Ben. So Ben, we’re recording on Thursday right now?

B: Thursday. Yup.
T: Yesterday, the largest industrial action in NZ history!

B: The largest industrial action in the education sector.

T: Oh! Okay. Thank you for that correction.

B: In 1979, there were 300,000 people out on a general strike. But I think that, apart from that, this is the second largest action.

J: So tell us a bit about why the teachers went on strike, and how you think the strike action went.

B: So primary teachers have been on strike twice last year as well. This is our third time going out and it was the first time that our secondary teacher colleagues had joined us. But basically, there’s a huge teacher shortage at the moment. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves and aren’t training to get into the profession. So teachers have identified three key issues that, if they’re fixed, could solve this shortage. The first of them is a pay jolt, to recruit and retain teachers. The second is more resourcing for special education needs. And the third is just more time. So teachers mostly just work, like, 60 hour weeks or more. So they’re asking for more classroom release times, and smaller class sizes, and workload sort of issues like that. And we’ve been in negotiations with the government, with the Ministry, for about a year now. And nothing has come out of it to address properly those issues.

T: So this is a pretty huge issue, right? That education is being so underfunded that 50,000 people are, like, fuck it, we cannot go to work! This is a huge thing for teachers.

B: Right, yeah. I mean, for primary teachers, we haven’t been out on strike since… the last time was 1994. And so people don’t take striking lightly, you know, teachers want to be in the classroom. And to go out three times in the space of 12 months, with potentially more coming on, it’s a big thing.

J: I was born in 1994.

B: [laughs]

T: One of my flatmates is training to be a primary teacher, and she’s already completely overworked just doing her practicum.

B: Yeah, it’s wild. People legit still think it’s like a 9-3 and 12 weeks holiday. But it’s pretty not that. So yeah, yesterday was fucking sick.

T: And one of the things that really struck me was, at the rally, one of the teachers talked about how it was common to hear of teachers, like, doing Uber, and having part time jobs bartending, because being a teacher, they’re still living in poverty in Auckland.

B: Yeah. I know a guy, one of our site reps at one of the schools that I organise, is a security guard at night. So he teaches in the daytime and is a security guard at night.

J: You guys are complaining about nothing. In America, teachers are donating their blood plasma to pay the rent! [laughs] So we’ve actually got it quite here! And until you’re donating blood plasma, we’re not giving any extra money towards funding teachers! [laughs]

T: [laughs] So this whole issue is causing burnout, people are leaving the profession, new teachers aren’t sticking around. So we’ve had a well-being budget today.

B: Have we?

J: Have we? [laughs]

T: Apparently! So I’m assuming, if it cares about the wellbeing of public sector workers-

J: And about the children they teach!

T: We’d expect a huge increase in funding for education, has that been the case?
B: If you look at the baseline figures, it doesn’t look so bad, right? 1.56 billion of extra funding into the education sector. Until you see that 1.2 billion dollars is just buildings.

T: Yeah.

J: It’s free real estate! [laughs]

B: Which is fine, we do need more schools, and we need more buildings in schools, but that’s not what any teacher has been asking for.

T: Totally. So the hope, I guess, and it’s not really a realistic hope – and people were very realistic about it – was that somehow, with this massive strike the day before the budget, the government was gonna be like “yes, we’re gonna increase funding, and we’re gonna give teachers a payraise.”

B: Yeah. It’s wild. It’s like the one thing that this Labour government is willing to spend political capital on, is not giving teachers a payrise. [laughs]

J: And not doing a capital tax.

B: Yeah, yeah, exactly. [laughs]

J: It’s those two things. I think that’s really interesting. [laughs]

B: If we look at what teachers were asking for, there’s like three areas. Basically we’ve seen improvements to none of those.

J: So was the budget not about teachers’ wellbeing, but in fact a big “fuck you” to teachers?
B: I think it could definitely be read like that. Chris Hipkins, yesterday, came out to meet teachers in Wellington and it was interesting because, last year, on our first strike, Jacinda and Chris came out and they were cheered from the crowd. Everyone was like, “yay! Yeah!” And this time around, as soon as he got out, people just started chanting, “not good enough! Not good enough!”

T: Right.

B: And then he just came out and said it, like, “you’re gonna be disappointed. And I’m not gonna do what you want me to do.” And so where we go from here…

J: Yeah, where do we go from here?
B: Well, we know that sometimes pressure makes people do things that they said they weren’t gonna do. Last year, they said that they weren’t gonna increase the amount of money in what they were offering us, and then we went out on strike and they did increase it. So things change but yeah, certainly in the budget there hasn’t been Jacinda swooping down from the heavens saying “we’re saving you, teachers.”

J: Would it be easy for them to give teachers the basic requirements of what they’re after?
B: Yeah, it would be really easy. [laughs] It’s like, you know, it does all come as a package, because the things that we’re asking for around extra resourcing for special needs, and extra classroom release time, more teachers around, does require more teachers, right? And we do have a teacher shortage. But the only way you can get teachers in is by paying them more.
J: Yeah.

B: It’s not a huge amount of money. We know that they’ve got.. I think they’re budgeting for, and I might be wrong on this, I think it was a 6 billion dollar surplus this year. Certainly they had a 2.5 billion dollar surplus for the year 2018-2019.

J: And that’s big!

T: I think it’s not necessarily always helpful to think about things in terms of surpluses either. Because, as a percentage of GDP, government spending is actually lower than it was when Helen Clark left office.

B: Right.

T: And there’s actually, in the longer term, basically a flatlining of total government expenditure or GDP. Because it doesn’t matter what the surplus is, they’re just not willing to tax. There is a whole tax base of capital that is not being taxed.

B: It’s almost like you need some sort of tax on capital. Like, if you make a gain from capital…

J: Then you should tax it…

T: Woah. This is an innovative idea.

J: We should bring this in. Yeah, I think it could be good for our wellbeing to have, like, a “capital gains” tax.

B: Yeah, you could call it that. “CGT”, even.

T: I love it. It’s almost as if this self-imposed austerity from the government, because it doesn’t wanna raise taxes, is having incredibly negative effects on people working in the public service, our teachers, and as a flow on effects, our kids. Because they get a shit education because the government has decided, for some reason, it looks better to impose an austerity budget.

J: And it is serious. We’re talking about it in terms of numbers, and the situation currently, but when you look at the research of the deepening socioeconomic crisis in education, with the way it tracks students and sets them up on a path of either poverty or immense wealth – the vast majority into poverty and into substandard, low-wage jobs – it’s a fucking crisis. And we also have terrible literacy and numeracy rates! And that’s all tied to the underfunding of education. And also the curriculum, but that’s a different story for a different day… [laughs]

B: [laughs] The one other thing I’d say is that it’s not only, you know, it’s primary and secondary teachers out on strike, but early childhood is..

J: Oh, yeah. Do they have a union?

B: Yeah. Well.. [laughs] They have a union, and it’s called NZEI Te Riu Roa.

J: Oh, sorry! [laughs]

B: Kindergarten teachers, their contract is just about to come up. Kindergarten is kinda the gold standard for early childhood. Cause there’s a whole unregulated private market out there as well where some people, qualified teachers, aren’t even getting paid the living wage in some centres. And so the primary and secondary stuff is bad but it’s sort of like ECE puts it to shame.

J: I guess my question is what is the mood around teachers? In secondary and primary? Are people connecting this to the government’s austerity, to the lack of taxation? Or is a lot of the angst kind of misdirected? I’m just interested in whether it’s been a politicised sort of thing.

B: So my feeling at the moment is that our members, right now, are militant, but they’re not radical.

T: Mm.
B: So they’re willing to take militant action to get what they know is needed to fix the sector. But I don’t think that there is a huge political consciousness around, like, the broader effects or causes of that.

J: And I guess I wondered, as someone working in the union movement, if you think that’s the next step? In terms of actually turning this into a more concrete demand. I mean, right now, with the nurses and teachers, the demand is for resources and wages, which is totally fair, but linking that to the broader system we have, and where the wealth is actually going. I think that’s so vital. Cause otherwise the rage and anger, while very justified, gets sometimes misdirected.

B: Sure. I mean, the council of trade unions are I think about to start a campaign on tax justice. And so maybe that will have some effect. Certainly, the things happening at the same time makes people have some sort of idea. I think our members got a lot of confidence from the nurses when they went out on strikes.

J: R.I.P. to the nurses.

B: [laughs] Pour one out.

J: Pour one out for real ones! [laughs] They really lost out. Cause the teachers have refused…

B: I mean, the offer that they accepted is better than what’s on the table for teachers at the moment. And so, if our offer doesn’t get better, then who knows.

J: Is there hope? Do you feel hopeful?

B: Yeah, I feel hopeful. We just saw 50,000 teachers and supporters on the street yesterday. And I know that members have lots more fight in them. And it’s gonna be interesting to see where it goes.

J: Cool.

T: Awesome. Thank you so much. This is really exciting. Even though, in the context of our budget, it fundamentally failed to deliver for education, there’s a growing militancy. Hopefully, maybe we can start – well, you as an organiser, and the union, and teachers themselves – can start connecting those dots.

B: Yeah.

J: I actually have one more question. Have you seen reaction to the budget by teachers yet? I know it’s early days.

B: Yeah. People are basically just saying, like, there’s nothing in here. And there is nothing in there! There are a few really small nice things, like getting rid of donations, but it’s not like the change that we’re after. Can I, before we go, just tell my budget joke?

T: Please!

B: Uh.. well-being budget? More like smell-being budget! Because it stinks!

J: [laughs] Well done, Ben.

T: Thank you. This is why we had you on.

J: Wait. [laughs] Did you see all the people saying “I’m crying! This is the best budget ever!”? What is up with that?? I’m like… is this… what the fuck?
B: I didn’t see that!

T: People were genuinely happy that – and we’ve been talking with Ricardo about this – that benefits were being…

B: Adjusted to inflation?
T: And I’m like, what, 13 dollars over five years??

B: [laughs]

J: That’s like the most insulting shit I’ve ever heard in my entire life!
T: What the fuck!

J: Mm. I actually thought about being a teacher, but then I saw the wages and I was like… [laughs] what the fuck, I’m gonna work in HR.

B: And you remembered that you have a podcast [laughs] where you say dumbass shit.

T: Excuse me, we have never once said anything stupid.

B: Sorry, that’s all Emmy, right?
J: [laughs] I wish she was here. She would be like… so, why is the head of Chris Hipkins not being presented??

T: [laughs]

J: We’re joking. It’s like so… joke, joke, joke, joke, joke.

B: And it’s very personal from me. [laughs] It’s very not NZEI.

T: Yes. That’s true.

J: Ben doesn’t actually work for NZEI, he was just saying that to make it more legit. [laughs] no, no I’m joking.

T: He was stealing valour from the teachers. [laughs]

J: Which is cool. And we respect that. Only the highest calibre of guests on our podcast.

T: Absolutely, definitely real organiser. Thank you, Ben, absolutely definitely an officer.

J: Definitely a role that exists.

B: Thank you, Ti and Justine.

T: No, our pleasure. And we’ll have you back on to hear more about the definitely-not-fake strike.

B: [laughs] I’m looking forward to it.

 

Nadia

T: Next up, we have Nadia who is an early childhood teacher, to talk to us a bit about what it’s like working in the early childhood sector, and kind of her thoughts on the budget. Nadia! Welcome!
N: Kia ora! Thank you for having me!
J: So Nadia and I… we sort of know each other from other things.

N: [laughs]

J: But today, we’re not gonna be talking about that. And it’s just absolutely off the table. There will be no mention of Lorde. You’re putting your different hat on, Nadia. [laughs] Your early childhood hat.

T: So Nadia, tell us a little bit about how you’ve reacted to the news of what’s in the budget?

N: I think there’s two things. I think the first thing is that, for those of us who worked in the early childhood sectors, particularly in the last decade, we have kind of seen the fact that early childhood is never really, and hasn’t been, a political priority. And we often talk about ourselves, even within our own union, actually, as the “poor cousins.”

T: We actually heard that from one of the union reps from NZEI today! [laughs]

N: Yeah. So that’s kind of where we’re at. And I think that’s a reflection on – we often say “a teacher is a teacher”, right? And you’re seeing primary and secondary teachers talk about how, actually what they do is the same, but secondary teachers have historically been paid more, and then they were paid the same, and then now they’re paid more again. And it’s always a struggle to sort of be tethering ourselves to those who teach older children. So I think the thing with early childhood, and the devaluation of early childhood, is that it’s an interface between a really gendered workforce and also like a caring role, and working with children. And we just don’t put much value on that. So I don’t think anybody in the sector is surprised, but I think the second thing to say is that we’re just not organised. And I think a lot of people in the sector feel really sad about the state of things and they often say things like “people don’t care about us! They don’t care about early childhood!” And I don’t actually think that’s true. I think a lot of people care about early childhood. It’s really important, and I think a lot of parents recognise that. But we’re not organised as an industrial force within the early childhood sector. And I think unless you’re actually organised as an industrial force, it’s not just that the government’s not gonna take you seriously, it’s that your issues are not even gonna be on the political agenda. And that’s what we see for our sector.

J: What is the impediment, or the barrier, to early childhood teachers organising? Do you think it helps being in the same union as primary school teachers at NZEI? Or do you think you need to organise independently? Or is it just because it’s also a semiprivatised industry as well?

N: Yep. That’s hitting the nail on the head. So there’s about 4800 early childhood services in the country. And that includes home based care. And when you look at a sector like primary, first of all, you’ve got a union that’s been present for over 100 years, and you’ve got one contract. And you’ve also got a neutral employer which is the Ministry. And then when you compare that to early childhood, we are a world apart. We are 73% privatised.

J: Wow.

N: We have, you know, hundreds upon hundreds of small workplaces, various different brands, and hundreds or thousands of employers. And so you’re looking at a lot of complexity in organising terms. We did actually have our own union. It was a rank and file union started in… I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Sonja Davies.

J: It’s a familiar name.

N: I think she was actually Jewish!

J: Yaasss.

N: She made the call in 1979 to start an early childhood union. She said “we’re not gonna uplift the status of what we do as early childhood workers” – that’s what they called themselves at that point – “unless we’re an industrial force.”
J: Now that you mention it, I work with someone who worked for that union, who was an organiser. And it was in the old trades hall. Yeah! Awesome! It was a big part of the feminist movement at the time!

N: Exactly. It was really cool. So it was basically started from the ground up. They had no resource. They just started doing it. And they built a union and they actually made some really big, and they were really influenced by the feminist movement. They were really influenced by the antiracist, anti-apartheid movement. They were kinda in that time. They were going to these huge women’s conferences where childcare was a big feminist issue, right? The right to be able to return to work. But also for the women working in the sector to be able to be paid a decent wage for that work, because it was gendered work. So yeah, they did some really cool stuff. They amalgamated with the kindergarten teacher’s union, which was an older union, and then amalgamated with NZEI after the Employment Contracts Act went through, and there were heaps of unions amalgamating. So a lot of people say, it would be really great if we could have our own union again, I actually think it’s an advantage to be with primary, but it’s about NZEI and early childhood teachers working together to find what our role within this union will be, and how we build a membership in a private sector, within a private sector union. So that’s the challenge that’s ahead for us. And it’s an exciting challenge because, actually, early childhood teachers are the largest group of un-unionised workers in a union sector. So there’s about 32000 early childhood teachers, and only about 4500 of them are in the union.

J: Wow.

N: So there’s huge opportunities for growth, and I actually think now is the time.

T: So given the lack of strength that workers have, compared to the bosses right now, you’re kind of dependent on the goodwill of the government, basically, for any increase in pay, and any increase in funding. And I’m just looking at the budget for this year, and there was a 1.8% increase per child for the subsidy for early childhood. I was wondering, from your knowledge of the sector, is that enough?
N: No! [laughs] No. I mean, essentially, under National, we had a decade of a funding freeze. We went backwards. Participation, which means the amount of children participating in early childhood, surged up during this time. And funding and resourcing for the sector has not reflected that growth. So it’s a really, really hard and tight time in the sector. And when you have a competitive market, as well, you can imagine what that does, right? You have a few huge conglomerates. They actually pay really low wages to their staff, and they cut corners. And that makes it really hard for the centers that don’t run for a profit incentive to even compete in that space.

T: Right. I also saw that one of the unions is saying there’s like a 2100 teacher shortage. I was wondering what the day to day impact is on teachers? How does such a huge shortage impact what it’s like to be teaching these young people.

N: It’s huge! We’re talking, in concrete terms, and I don’t wanna say this lightly, but we’re talking about a matter of life and death. There have been some fatalities in early childhood centres, and the reasons for those are often complex. But we know for a fact that, when centres are understaffed and underresourced, accidents are more likely to happen. And we’re already existing in a space where, for the amount of children we look after, and our spaces, and particularly in the private centres, where you can be looking at having a license for up to 150 children in one space. And then you’re saying, okay, on top of that, when other teachers are sick, there’s no relief to come in. Some centres are advertising multiple positions at one time. And the thing that hurts and bothers us so much in the sector is because we teach in the sector because we know how crucial the first 1000 days of development are. That first 1000 days, crucial in their brain development, they need to be supported, they need to have their emotional wellbeing looked after, they need to have relationships with their teachers. And that’s just not possible with the level of turnover and short-staffing we’ve got. You can’t have those beautiful relational caring moments with children when you have 10 children to watch and you’re just staying afloat. And I think, you know, it’s scary, and it weighs on, the responsibility of the impacts that not being able to provide quality care for children can have on them in later life. And I think that’s a burden a lot of us carry and it means that a lot of us in the sector give a lot. They really work really hard, and they squeeze themselves, and go the extra mile, and work unpaid hours, and work through their breaks, and don’t take them, because they care. But that’s a familiar story, right?

T: Yeah. Especially in feminised labour, of course.

J: So, on the back of this government coming in as a transformational government, as a government that was focused on, you know, creating a “new economy” and new New Zealand…

T: [laughs]

J: Well-being is like central to this budget… I mean, do you think it’s a well-being budget? Do you think that the children’s well-being is central in this budget? Or…. or no? [laughs]

N: [laughs] That’s a leading question, guys!

J: This is objective news, Nadia! We’re telling you what you need to say! [laughs] I’m joking.

N: I think the thing is, and we see this with the primary teachers as well, what we’re literally saying is we’re already in a space of crisis. We’re already… the things that are happening on the floor right in the education space are already having an impact on the children that we work with. And in early childhood, that is very very true, and it’s been true for a while. And so, and let’s bear in mind as well that the cost of childcare is so expensive to families. For people earning the minimum wage, you’re talking about most of their income for the week going into a service and further impoverishing them. So I think what we really need to see is some steps towards universal, free, quality early childhood as a public service. And you know, you hear Jacinda Ardern talking about Aotearoa being the best place in the world to be a child. That’s her vision. I think that’s a great vision! But unless we actually are willing to do something to actually stop the hemorrhaging of the workforce, and the underresourcing of these services, then I don’t know how we’re able to promote the well-being of young children. And that’s our work. That’s our bread and butter as early childhood teachers. So, no. [laughs]

J: Great. That’s what I was looking for! [laughs] I wanna say one more thing. I do think that I’m disappointed that this isn’t a priority for a feminist movement, and I see the way it was prioritised and it was fought for. It was through the blood, sweat and tears of the initial women’s movement in Aotearoa that these gains were won. And I feel, I don’t know why we don’t talk about this, really, to the extent we should be. Especially in feminist spaces! Because it seems to me that it’s one of the main ways that women and gender diverse are materially impoverished. I think that needs to be central to any kind of feminist movement.

T: Absolutely. And on both sides of the issue, right? For both parents and for the workers.

N: Totally agree. And I think we’re just at a low point right now, you know? If you look back and you read stuff from the women’s conferences in the ‘70s, the room was on fire! There were like thousands of people in there. The demands that were being made were really ambitious, and I don’t think we, particularly in the last wee while, have been in that kind of space. But I think we might actually be entering back into a space where we are beginning to organise a little bit more, and we’ve been at a low point in terms of organising, but I don’t think it will necessarily stay that way. So I guess it falls on us to think about those material things. Like, do people have access to quality childcare and education, in every place in Aotearoa? I often think about it as like, we talk about defending public education. The union talks about that. If we get into a more confident space, we need to be talking about extending public education.

T: Absolutely.

N: Yeah. Early childhood up to tertiary. And then we can all have access to education, and the kind of liberatory flow on effects that can have on us. So hopefully, people are getting emboldened and confident from seeing people out on the streets and striking. So I’m kind of optimistic right now.

T: Yeah, I think that’s a really important challenge that you’ve made, to socialists and socialist feminists. This is an important struggle that we can take up alongside early childhood teachers and parents of young people, as a really concrete demand for transforming the material conditions that people are living in right now, both teachers and parents. Thank you so much, Nadia, and thank you for coming on the podcast and for all your really insightful analysis.

J: And we’ll have another episode where we talk more about feminism. You should come.

N: Yay! It’s been great to talk to you guys! And thank you for being so receptive. I think, sometimes, as early childhood teachers, even though I’m on the more optimistic side and I think people do care, it’s still heartening to hear someone be like “yes! That is a feminist demand!” and “yes! This does need to be higher on the agenda!” So I appreciate that.

T: It’s our pleasure! And I’m sure our listeners are clicking along at home, snapping their fingers.

J: Well, they better be. I’ll take it up with them if they’re not.

T: All three of them are really into this. [laughs]

J: Alright, well, thank you for coming on! Good reunion where we didn’t talk about Lorde. Making progress.

N: Thank you for having me, guys! Enjoy the rest of your night!

 

Ti

J: So, little bit of a surprise, one of the people we’re interviewing is someone who normally interviews people on this podcast. We’re gonna talk to Ti about the criminal injustice system. That is Ti’s – and Emmy’s – area of specialty. I’m not interviewing you, though, Emmy, you’re actually a co-interviewer.

E: I just showed up. I’ll leave again after this one.

J: I left a trail of Mao quotes just to get here. And she’s here! So let’s… hi, Ti.

T: Hello.

J: How are you?

T: I’m very good.

J: So, we understand – cause we haven’t been seeing you every day… spoiler alert, we have – that you have been doing some number crunching and analysis on criminal injustice budget for this year and years previously. So could you talk to us a little bit about what the results have been?

T: So please, tell me if what I’m saying is either 1. too boring or 2. too confusing.

E: Cut! Cut the show! Too boring, cut the show. We’re done here.

J: I’m done with this interview.

T: [laughs] So it is a bit technical, but I’ll try to explain the general criminal justice issues, and how this relates to the budget. So with criminal justice spending, it’s almost entirely predetermined for Corrections by social policy. So criminal justice policy. So the amount that the government actually spends on prisons is determined by the number of people in prison. And the number of future people who are gonna be in prison, i.e. the number of more prison beds that they need to built.

J: Right.

T: So what determines the number of people in prison are things like laws around bail, laws around parole, laws around sentencing. So it’s those criminal justice legal frameworks which ultimately establish what the budget is going to be for the Corrections systems.

E: That makes sense.

T: Also, with the exception of… you can have some programmes, like, if you increase the total number of police, which they are doing, that will have a direct increase in the number of total prisoners. Because the number of prisoners in a country has absolutely no relationship to the total amount of crime in a country. And that’s really really important to remember. And that’s across basically every country in the world, across time. There is no relationship between crime rates and prisoner numbers. The biggest determinant is criminal justice policy, and police numbers. Because if you have more police, you have more people catching “criminals”, more people who are caught in the net of the criminal justice system, because there are more people with their bug nets trying to capture people.

J: Yeah, capturing people, basically.

T: So these are things that determine prisoner numbers.

E: So it’s not out of the government’s hands, is what you’re saying.

T: It’s within the government’s hands because the government controls the policy settings that ultimately set the budget. So the government can change the bail laws, the government can change the paroles, could change sentencing laws, could reduce the number of police.

E: Could burn all the prisons to the ground.

T: Yes. Or, similarly, it could have a long term plan for justice disinvestment, or it could have a long term plan for decarceration, or spending in that way, which it doesn’t have. So important things that have happened in the last six or seven years, is that there has been a doubling in the number of people held on remand. So these are people who have either not been found guilty of anything, or who have not actually been sentenced to imprisonment. So they’re just in prison because, for whatever, reason, a judge thinks they are too dangerous to be on the outside. But it’s not even that. It’s actually, for most of these people, just because they’re homeless.

E: Yeah. There’s no home to release them to, so they have to chill out in jail until they can actually be tried.

T: That’s exactly it. Because new bail laws have basically said you have to have a very secure address, reliable address, in order to get bail.

E: Well, it’s a good thing there’s no housing crisis.

T: Exactly. So in a housing crisis, it means that lots of these people are in prison because they are homeless. Anyway, so there’s been an increase in the prison population from about 8,000 to just over 10,000. That’s fluctuating, and it’s gonnna go up in the next couple of years. So, over this time, the prison capacity has absolutely gone amok. So they’ve had to introduce double bunking, which is where you put more than one person in a cell, which is in breach of the International Convention on the Rights of Prisoners, and is a recipe for sexual assault, and for violence generally. And then on top of that, they’ve realised they’ve had to build a new prison, and they’re basically just spending more money on housing people in prison instead of housing them on the outside. So what’s happened between 2018 and 2019 is, in 2018, the government said “we’re gonna spend 1.7 billion dollars on the Corrections system.” Then, at some point in 2018, it also said “actually, we’re also gonna spend 600 million dollars on a new prison”, which is unnecessary. And then what they did is, with this budget, they retroactively said “oh, in 2018, we actually said we were gonna spend 2.2 billion dollars, not 1.7 billion dollars!” So they’re going back and saying “last year, we kind of said we were gonna spend 1.7 billion dollars, but actually we didn’t.” So they’re kind of lying.

J: Yeah. Can I also interject and say, just to put these numbers in perspective, people talking about the mental health in the budget, that’s 1.9 billion over 5 years. But what you’re saying is 2.2 billion in a year. Is that correct?

T: Yeah. That’s right. So 2.2 billion was spent last years on Corrections alone. That doesn’t include police. That’s just Corrections.

J: And when you think about how much resources, then, are going into Corrections, and even contrasting to that to now everyone talking about how great this mental health budget is, we can see that there’s a huge discrepancy in how much resources are going into the criminal injustice system versus actual well-being, like mental health services. Which has a direct correlation as well with where the people end up.

T: Yep. Only 1.9 billion dollars over five years, rather than 2.2 billion dollars in one year. That’s huge in terms of allocation of resources. But what’s really important here is the government has fudged the numbers so it looks like it’s reducing spending on Corrections by about 80 million dollars. Actually, when you compare this year’s budget to last year’s budget – last year’s budget, they said 1.7 billion – this year they’re planning on spending 2.1 billion dollars. A total increase in spending on Corrections – so 439 million dollars in one year. That’s how much the budget is increasing in one year! 439 million dollars.

E: That’s a massive increase.

T: Over the next three years, so this year, until 2022, the government is increasing spending from what it said last year, by 1.387 billion dollars over three years. 1.387 billion dollars in new spending on Corrections alone over three years. Compared to 1.9 billion for mental health, over five years.

E: And yet people are kind of congratulating the government on this mental health programme, which is absolutely dwarfed by our spending on prisons. That’s completely counterproductive to the purpose of having this mental health spending!
J: I mean, you have to ask what’s in a name, cause what is a well-being budget, then? What is emphasised? So we’re talking about mental health, but we’re not talking about Corrections, and we’re not talking about this huge amount of— I mean, this is a government with Kelvin Davis, who came in talking about looking at how to reduce our prison population, not building new prisons, etc etc. That was the rhetoric, right? And so it’s really disturbing to hear about this! It’s a violent system. I hope all of our listeners, we’ve had episodes on this, so we’ve given that context to what we’re now talking about, that this allocation of resources is really disturbing, really disgusting and morally abhorrent.

T: Absolutely. And if we’re talking specifically about mental well-being of people in prisons, okay, prisons cause psychosis. It’s simple as that. People coming out of prison are, on the whole, substantially more mentally unwell than they were going in. Prison causes depression, anxiety, schizophrenia. It causes a whole heap of mental illnesses for people who didn’t already have them, and exacerbates already existing mental illness. Consistently, what studies have shown is that mental health programmes in prisons don’t work, because the environment itself is so dangerous.
J: You could think about… late capitalism as well. Again, therapy is effective, but not as effective as it could be if I weren’t living in a late capitalist hellhole, anyways. [laughs] Sometimes environment matters! What can you do!

T: It absolutely matters. In my Master’s research about deaths in prisons, prisoners take their own lives at a rate six or seven times higher than the general population. A huge proportion of Maori men who take their own lives every year take their lives in prison. A humongous proportion. So if we’re thinking about well-being, we have to look at the programmes that this government is prioritising which are actively undermining the well-being of the people, and a specific subgroup of people. So overwhelmingly Maori and Pacific people from poor backgrounds. That’s whose well-being is being undermined through this budget.

J: Who are continually on the receiving end of what is systemic, institutional violence that takes lives. Every single day, people are sucked into this. And it’s a tragedy, and it’s a preventable one, and it’s a choice that the government is making. And that’s what needs to be emphasised. I don’t understand, why don’t these lives matter? Why don’t they matter? It’s not enough to just point this out. They need to matter. It needs to mean something. So this can’t just be a side note in the budget. It can’t be, oh that’s bad, but it’s cancelled by something else. Like, no! This is not acceptable. It is not okay. The lives of people who are taken into the criminal justice system and destroyed. They matter, and they have to matter, or all of our lives don’t matter.

T: Absolutely. I’m noting that, to begin with, total spending in Corrections is a bit different from other government spending because it’s determined by beds. By prisoner numbers, which are basically indirectly chosen through criminal justice policy. So you could argue, well, the government just has to spend this because there’s this demand for prisoner beds. But it’s within the government’s power to immediately reduce prisoner numbers. It is within their power. If they took immediate action, and took even regulatory imperatives. If they told the parole board that they simply have to interpret the legislation differently, they could be releasing more people very soon. This crisis could be addressed, in terms of overcrowding, in terms of mass imprisonment, quickly by this government if it had the will to do so. If it had the will to do so, the Corrections budget could be reduced this year. But there isn’t. There’s no willingness to address the causes of the prisoner numbers in terms of policy, direct policy, that is locking up more people than at any time in NZ history. And so that’s why, as far as I’m concerned, this is not a well-being budget.

J: Thank you, Ti.

E: And that’s why the Labour Party is not your friend!

 

Vanessa

T: And we have a very special returning guest, Vanessa Cole. Welcome back, Vanessa.

V: Thanks, Ti.

T: I’ve got Vanessa on today to talk about housing and the budget. So Vanessa and I have been doing a little bit of work on this in the last couple of weeks, but it’s a new topic for me and Vanessa has been working on housing, and housing policy in Aotearoa, for years and years and years. So tell us a little bit, Vanessa, about what is going on in budget 2019 for housing?
V: So, 2019 budget, there has been some money being invested in the Housing First initiative. Which means that they’re going to fund just over 1000 more beds for those that are seen as long term homeless. And they’re also going to be investing some more money into transitional housing. Transitional housing is not permanent housing. It’s housing that they put people into for a certain amount of time, to then move their money to more permanent accommodation, although a lot of people, as we know, are trapped in a cycle of emergency housing, transitional housing, because of the fact that the government are not building enough public houses to house people that need them. So last year, the budget 2018 – so there was nothing in this year’s budget that was gonna invest more money into public housing. In the 2018 budget, Labour pledged that they were gonna invest in building 6400 new state houses over the next four years, which is 1600 houses a year. This does not even scrape the surface of how many public houses we actually need.

T: Right.

V: Currently we have a waitlist of 11,000 people.

T: And that’s as of, like, March 2019, right? That’s not like, 11,000 in four years time. That’s 11,000 houses needed right now.

V: Mmhmm. And that’s more than doubled in the past years. So the problem is significant and Labour’s response to it has been very weak, and not good enough. Their focus on private housing, through KiwiBuild initiative, but also through using Housing NZ land to build private housing for people, has meant that they have not focused on what we really need, which is a mass build in public housing.

T: Yeah. So tell me a bit about that shortage in state houses. So why is 6400 houses – that sounds like quite a lot – why is that not enough?

V: Well, first of all, like I said, we have 11,000 people on the waitlist. We have more and more people living in emergency housing, which means they have to go to MSD every 7 days to renew it. And this is a constant struggle, cause they have to prove to MSD that they have been looking for alternative accommodation. And of course, you spend your whole week going to viewings, often private landlords discriminate against people who are on the benefit, or sole parents. But then, also, most of the private housing is too expensive for people who are on such low incomes. And so the waitlist doesn’t really even capture everybody because the criteria for going on the waitlist excludes people who are the working poor, that earn over the threshold to get access to it, but also can’t afford the escalating rents that are going on at the moment. So we have a huge problem, and we have massive amounts of people who are either homeless in the traditional sense of being homeless, or are living in overcrowded, substandard, and unaffordable private rentals. And so the need for public housing is massive. What’s happened is that 6400 houses will only get us to the amount of houses that we had in 1993, and obviously the population has increased significantly. So we see that we actually are building less than we should in comparison to other time periods.

T: Right. Cause when you adjust it for population, having the same number of houses as we had when we had a million fewer people in NZ… there needs to be a massive increase in state house building. Not even close.

V: And the Welfare Expert Advisory Group actually said this as a part of their welfare report, that we need an industrial-scale build of state housing. But it doesn’t seem like the Labour government is interested in that. And they, like, have pictures of Michael Joseph Savage on their wall. [laughs] And when we think about what the first Labour government, they were like “yeah! Mass build of state housing will be good for everyone!” It helps in controlling speculation, and it’s a desirable alternative to the private market, which is exploiting people.

T: Right. So if we’re looking at what generally is in the budget for this supposed well-being budget for housing, you’ve got no new money put into state housing, but you do have a couple of hundred million dollars into the Housing First programme, which is great, but probably also not enough. And more money spent on emergency housing, so putting peopel up in motels. What would, by comparison to a couple hundred million dollars spent on emergency housing and Housing First, what would a well-being budget for all, in terms of housing, look like?

V: Well, a well-being budget would look like the government being bold enough to get rid of their budget responsibility rules. Cause, I mean, first of all, the Treasury actually warned the government that they should be spending more money on public housing instead of putting those costs on Housing NZ, getting into debt. Because that poses more financial risk. So the government needs to be spending more money on building massive amounts of public housing instead of investing money into programmes like KiwiBuild, which is essentially middle class welfare. And we need to see it on a mass scale. And I think that there are resources there, if we taxed wealth, if there was a capital gains tax, but also other forms of taxing wealth. And also spending some of the surplus that the government’s having. We could actually build enough houses to end homelessness, and it’s possible, it just takes political will.

T: Actually. And I think it’s really important to look at housing because it’s such an important source of insecurity and poverty and mental illness that, when we don’t get housing right, we can’t get our wellness right more generally. Thanks so much, Vanessa, for coming on the podcast, and we look forward to hearing again from you soon.

V: Thank you.

 

Anna

T: Next up, we have Anna Sturman, who is a PhD in Political Economy at the University of Sydney over in Australia, but grew up in New Zealand. Is that right, Anna?

A: Yes! That’s correct. From the South Island.

T: Oh, okay. That’s obviously where the accent’s from. [laughs]

A: [laughs] That’s what all the Australians say!

T: So anyway, doing her PhD in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, and is also a member of the Climate Justice Collective, who are organising for a Green New Deal in Australia. Very exciting stuff. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Anna, and for talking with us a little bit about the kind of climate change environment initiatives – or lack thereof – in the budget 2019.

A: [laughs] Yes.

T: So tell us a little about your initial response to the well-being budget.

A: Okay, so, having just come out of the federal election here in Australia.

J: Sorry.

A: [laughs] Yep. Thank you, thank you. Having come out of the aftermath of that, and seeing the fallout on the left of everybody arguing about, like, what caused it, it’s been fascinating watching the well-being budget roll out and the responses – primarily for me across Twitter and conversations with comrades across NZ and former academics – it’s been fascinating watching those same dynamics play out in response to what is a third way budget again from a Labour-led government. So that’s my overall feeling about it. “Oh god, here we go again.” I really hope that we can get some more of the small-L liberal centrist lefties to understand why we’re agitating for more than what we got.

J: I’ve been really shocked at the glowing international response from people like Rutger Berman. He’s that dude who called out the billionaires at Davos. You know, I’ve read his book, and it’s okay. It’s not bad. He has some quite radical prescriptions, so I thought– and I saw his glowing kind of “this is amazing! I can’t believe it!” And now I wanna throw his book in the bin. [laughs]

A: Yeah. Fuck, you wanna recycle the shit out of it, right?

J: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]

A: It’s just, like, this determined… it’s not apathy, it’s this real determination to find some kernel of hope in a budget that is premised on logics that we just need to completely overhaul. I saw the tweet that you put up, it may have been yesterday, Justine, where you were like “Rosa Luxemburg has the thing that we need to know about this.” And I totally agree with you. Yep, this is a step on the way, we should be grateful for anything that helps people get through the hellscape that is navigating life in NZ for a lot of people. But it’s not the endgame, and we need to be interrogating and critiquing the foundations, the logics that underpin this budget. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not happy that people are gonna be okay in the meanwhile. But they’re not gonna be okay in the long term unless we do something more.

J: Yeah. I think it’s important for socialists and communists and anti-capitalists to have that dialectical approach. It’s like the mental health initiatives seem promising, but I’m concerned about how they’re gonna fill the number of mental health workers needed for that, especially considering the low wages. So I don’t know how successful the initiative will be, just within this low wage precarious economy which disincentivises people from doing caring work.

A: Yep, yep. [laughs]

J: But people don’t respond well when you don’t acknowledge some of the things that will improve lives. So the mental health stuff, I fully will cap to that as a good thing.

T: And speaking on that, Anna, there are a couple of very, very small-scale, but good, things in this budget for the environment, like the continued funding of one billion trees, I guess?

A: Umm..

J: We have some thoughts on that. [laughs]

A: Yeah, to answer the original question, in terms of the environment and climate change, nothing is fundamentally changing. It’s the exact same approach, pretty much, that’s been sustained for the past 30 years from the inception of the climate change programme. So the trees, we’re gonna plant a lot of stuff, great, but how are we engaging that particular sector of industry in a broader programme of economic management? I don’t think it’s fundamentally changing anything. We’re putting a lot of money into research for agriculture, again, and you can’t keep searching for this weird holy grail that’s going to stop methane emissions out of living creatures. That goes back to your fundamental social relations, and relations of the mode of production. We keep searching for this magic spatio-temperal fix that’s going to perpetually shift the problem of this unsustainable mode of production into the future and onto the margins for other people to bear. It’s just completely frustrating that there are no moves towards something more. How many millions of dollars is it that we’re putting into this research center? This supposedly world leading research center?

T: It’s actually not that much.

J: New Zealand has some of the lowest level of investment in research in the world. We literally… [laughs] that’s why you’re in Australia, I’m assuming!

A: Yeah! Totally, 100%. I couldn’t afford to do my PhD in New Zealand with like 80k of student from being a law student and political science student.

J: Oof…. [laughs]

A: [laughs] So yeah, totally agree that, in the grand scale of things, it’s not a lot money, but if we’re still operating within “fiscal responsibility” rules about how we deal with monetary and fiscal strategy in NZ, we’re still plugging money into something that is just not gonna help anything. It’s just gonna keep people believing that the solution maybe lies in this technological fix in the future. The path dependency that that entails is outrageous.

T: I’m wondering if even the idea of us being able to fund our way out of climate change is part of the problem, right?

A: [laughs] Yeah.

T: Like you’ve pointed to, the very logics, the way in which we produce everything in the economy, the way in which the entire economy is structured, the incentives are such that, actually, we just need a restructuring, and that we can’t just plant a trillion trees, and that’s still not gonna fix it.

A: Fuck no.

T: I was wondering if you could explain that a little bit? What is it about capitalism, in particular, that is causing this crisis, and why is it that we can’t fund our way out of it?

J: Come on, Anna, tell us! [laughs]

A: Come on! Give it to us! [laughs] Well, firstly, at the base of capitalism is a commodification of everything. So Polanyi would talk about the commodification of labour, land, and money. And be like, look, you’re trying to buy and sell things on markets that were never created to be bought and sold in markets, so that’s like a gateway drug to talking about Marxism, and the different forms of value that things are ascribed in particular modes of production. Basically, we treat the environment as a free input to everything, and that’s where the idea of primitive accumulation comes from. There are different schools of Marxist theory, as we know, about how the environment is treated in different modes of production, and the underlying ontological understanding of humans and nature, and humans in nature. And a lot of the stalling around figuring out where we go to next, as socialists, as communists, is us not having an answer to the question of “well, what does it look like in a different world?” We’re still navigating our way through it. So “Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism” came out recently, and it was…

J: Oooh.

A: What’s his name? Saito, I think. And then you’ve got your classic James O’Connor’s second contradiction of capitalism, which essentially treats the degradation of the environment in the same way that you treat labour within capitalism, where the inconsistencies mean it slowly gets broken down. And then you’re in trouble because the whole system collapses, because the foundations of it don’t work anymore. Anyway, to walk back from that heavy jargonistic mind-dump, I’m sorry, [laughs] my frustration is – and what my thesis is on – is looking at… ‘cause people in New Zealand are like, “well, why don’t we do anything different? Why is it such a problem to get agriculture to talk about climate change in a meaningful way?” And I’m like, oh my god, you just need class analysis! That’s all that this is! So going back and understanding that NZ’s economy has always been built around the agricultural sector, agricultural capital, and how they utilise nature within the mode of production that they’re sustaining. So our whole country is built around it. That’s how our transport networks are the way they are, so we can easily transport goods to ports to export, and so on, and other industries are built up around it. So the different fractions of capital are all incredibly invested in keeping this thing going, cause we’ve gone too far to pull it back without huge intervention from the government. And so we’ve farmed sheep, we’ve farmed wool, and beef, and everything, for a huge part of the last century. And then there were crises on a number of fronts, and we pivotted to dairy, and the scale at which that has to operate, in order to help the economy to grow, is such that the inputs of the environment that we’re seeing – like, we’ve intensified rather than spreading out, which is what we were doing before. We’ve just intensified and intensified. Farmers have had to take on a huge amount of debt to make that viable. It’s almost all owed to banks overseas, so there’s not a lot our government can do with debt relief, though they’re trying desperately. And the environment’s giving out. [laughs] You can see in the budget for mycoplasma bovis, there’s 472 million dollars that’s going to attempt to fix that. You can’t fix that in this mode of production. You have to change it. You can’t incentivise tree planting on the edges of farms if you’re not changing what’s happening on the farms. And anyway, my contention is that, at this point, banking capital are pretty much in control of what happens with climate change in NZ. It’ll take a huge amount of effort to address it properly, and to give farmers a just transition, cause that’s the only thing that’s gonna get us out, given how heavily our economy swings around them. And we have to. Our environmnent’s going.

T: Are you saying that there’s a contradiction between a desire for a just transition for farmers, or even just putting regulation in place on farming, and the financial sector? Because there’s a potential for any increase in costs to then lead to bankrupcy, debt, foreclosures, that kind of stuff? Given that they’re all overseas, it’s hard to prevent that from happening. Is that where that contradiction is?
A: Yeah. Pretty much. With 1984, and the 1980s, all the changes that came through, the government paid down the debt of farmers who had previously been incentivised to take on lots of land, and then the big changes came, and they were heavily indebted. It was a subprime mortgage crisis in its own right. Because we still had nationalised banks, we had the rural bank, we’ve wiped all of that debt, and we helped in various ways. And we all know that the state is structured in various ways to assist capital. Anyway, farmers now have taken on a huge amount of debt to keep going. It is owed to overseas interests. The farmers, because they’re so heavily indebted, their equity ratios… they genuinely can’t afford to pay for that much more. Part of the reason for the reticence for carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes is that they’ve pushed this contradiction as far as they can.They genuinely can’t do that much more within this mode of production without it collapsing. And you see, like, farmer suicide rates are really high! The mental health in those communities is fucking terrible! And it’s because they’re internalising all of these contradictions and they feel attacked by the public. And people don’t understand the position that they’re in, and I think that’s kind of true. I’m not saying that I love farmers, but you gotta recognise that they have been, structurally, allowed to get into this position. And the state has enabled it every step of the way, and they are still trying to enable it. There was like a bill that went through parliament sometime earlier this year – it was a farm debt mediation bill that was attempting to put a step in between banks foreclosing on farmers. It said, basically, they need to sit down and talk to farmers before they just foreclose on them. And a member from every single party got up and was like “farmers are the backbone of this nation! We need to do everything that we can to make sure that they’re looked after!” And I was like, that’s fine, guys, but overseas banks don’t give a fuck.

J: [laughs] Yeah. Wow.

T: Thinking of the points of intervention for a just transition – obviously Fonterra is the largest company in NZ, but also was previously more of a cooperative, but also kind of a cooperative that obviously failed to provide farmers with the incentives they needed to engage in more sustainable land practices, or to reinvest in sustainable land – is there a case for the nationalisation of Fonterra? And then use of Fonterra’s profits to reinvest in more sustainable practices? Or does it go even bigger than that?

A: Interestingly, Fonterra comes from the producer boards. Another thing that I’m very interested is the theory of the state, and how capital – and what we call the state – co-constitute each other. How that has occurred with the state form, and agricultural capital in NZ over time, is absolutely fascinating. And essentially, Fonterra’s written into law, right? And I don’t mean that in your average company constitution sense. There are things that were allowed to happen to socialise some of the risk. They already kind of do what you suggested, but on their own terms, through their corporate social responsibility stuff. But they already are, to a degree, nationalised. The problem is not necessarily how that happens. The problem is that, within capitalism, there’s very little that we can do to change what’s happening within capitalism. It’s been pushed as far as it can go. And Fonterra is a global operation, as we all know. So there’s interesting discussions about [laughs] not reverse colonisation, but we’re now in another wave of weird primitive accumulation going on. And they’re going over into developing countries, under the guise of giving them technology and helping them out, and they’re just using resources again. It’s just the same thing. They’ve run out of resources in NZ. They need to operate at a huge scale to make the things sustainable. So they keep the spatio-temporal fix. The borders keep shifting out. So if we’re talking about what we do about Fonterra in NZ, that’s a massive problem. Cause where I come back to in all this is shut down the trade borders. Shut it down. Accept that there will be a massive drop in all sorts of living standards. But we can’t control our economy the way that it’s currently structured. It’s probably one of the more contentious things that I throw into the mix every now and then. But I’m like, capital flows just need to stop. And then we need to fucking figure out how we’re going to do it. And we saw what the fallout from doing the reverse of that was in 1984, when Treasury came through, Roger Douglas moved so quickly that no one knew what was going on [laughs], there’s a case for doing something like that again. But obviously, because we’re on the left, we have consciences, and it needs to be democratic. We’re in a bind.

J: We need a climate Stalin. [laughs] I’m joking, I’m joking!

A: Aaah!!!

J: But yeah, that’s the difficult moral, I guess.

A: Fuck yeah. And whenever I throw this out, people are like, oh my god Anna, no. And I’m like… well.. we can be precious about it, or we can start talking about what actually needs to happen. And hopefully if enough people who understand the premises of what we’re talking about, maybe we can start agitating a bit further, I don’t know. I don’t want a full blown revolution, but I do! What are we gonna do? The problem is huge! [laughs]

T: Right. And what you’ve really highlighted, and thank you so much for doing that so articulately, is that the well-being budget was never really going to be able to promise well-being ten years in the future.

J: In terms of climate justice, yeah.

A: Yeah.

T: What we need is a whole system’s change, and anything less than that is, frankly, naive.

A: Yeah! It is! And it’s willful blindness and reckless negligence at this stage. And I’m so sick of people being like, oh, come on, give her a pat on the back. Give Prime Minister Ardern a bit of a pat on the back, she’s leading us in the right direction. Like, yeah, cool, no! [laughs!] No! Do better!

J: Yeah, the urgency of it. So, obviously, we all agree that we need this systematic overhaul of the economic and social structures. How do we get there through politics? How does it become feasible? Obviously, you’ve got sections of the left who say you shouldn’t engage in any kind of electoralism, cause that just leads to the kind of reformism we’re seeing. And the Labour Party is maybe a really good example of the worst kind of outcome of engaging with the parliamentary sphere. But I don’t see a way without it, and I don’t know how that would happen. In terms of imagining, even strategising, I find myself in a conundrum, and I just wanted to know what you thought about that.

A: Yeah. Just to wax on about my PhD again for a second, that is essentially why I’m writing this fucking document. [laughs] It’s all very well and good to be able to diagnose the problem, but unless we can figure out where to go next, we’re in trouble. So the two things that I’m looking at are the theory of the state stuff, and then value theory and human nature relation, and so on. And so, in terms of engaging in electoral politics or not, I think – and we’re seeing a swing back in academia at the moment to sort of revisiting the Miliband-Poulantzas debates around the Marxist theory of state because, like it or not, my position is that we have to use the state. We have to move so quickly. We need to mobilise a huge amount very very fast, and that’s still sort of the level of abstraction at which we can coordinate resources and people as swiftly as possible. I think about the state not as instrumental to, or structurally inscribed towards, capitalism, but as a social relation, in the way that Poulantzas theorises it. Which I think is the most useful way, right? If you act on and through the state form, you inscribe it strategically in your interests so that your interests are easy to achieve through the state form, and then over time, people expect to be able to use the state in that way. So you see it in NZ. Any of the ways that the state was reconfigured in that big round of reforms, so that now, we think about the state need to be pared all the way back, and the different government departments have CEOs, and there’s a division of responsibility between ministers and the CEO of the department. That raises a whole lot of different questions about things. But people accept that that’s the way the state is, and they get to use it in that kind of way. Or, like, the Reserve Bank being separate, being out of democratic control.

T: Depoliticised.

A: Yeah. Exactly. I’m so worried about the Climate Commission, you guys. It’s just gonna be the same fucking thing. Remove that from democratic control – that’s gonna solve the underpinning class issues that are going to inform what it does!

J: Yeah. [laughs]

A: Anyway, using the state form is going to be really really important, which is why we need to look at how the state form has been inscribed sort of towards the interests of particular forms of capital, and how those forms of capital have strategically used it over time, in order to find where the cleavages are. I think that one of the big ones is going to be between agricultural capital and finance/banking capital. That is somewhere that we can start applying some force and figuring out how to maneuver capital in ways that make it more susceptible to attack from a united working class. And then I think we need to do a huge amount of work in raising class conscious, and in New Zealand, that’s gonna be really hard. But you guys are doing an awesome job.

T: Oh. [laughs] I’m sure all three of our listeners agree.

A: [laughs] Hi, three listeners! We love you guys!

J: Thank you! [laughs]

T: It’s just our mums.

J: Yeah. No. My mum doesn’t listen to my podcast. [laughs] But yeah, that’s what I wanna do. Figure out how to capture desire. And I see this with my students a lot. What captures desire is consumerism. I mean, it’s a really classic Frankfurt School kind of notion, but it’s relatively true! One of the major failures of Soviet socialism was how it suppressed desire, instead of celebrating it. That’s a bit of a Freudian kind of thing, but that’s what I look at. Like, how do we make people excited?

A: Yes! Yes, to everything. I think a couple of things. Firstly, people who are our age have only ever lived in this world. Our imagination has been wrung out of us. So it’s about encouraging people to be able to imagine a world where your basic needs are met, and that’s amazing! [laughs] And letting them know that it’s possible. And then the other thing that, every time I talk to someone who is not already in the same sort of headspace as me, they aways say “man, you guys need marketers. Really badly.” And I’m like, yeah! It’s true! We need propaganda! The other side has amazing propaganda. We need propaganda.

J: We’re too focused on being like, we’re right, and that’s the main thing. We’re just correct, and we’re very correct.

A: I think you’ll find that my argument. Yeah. [laughs]

J: And instead of doing the work of, like, we need to convince people, it’s like “well, no, I’m correct.” [laughs]

A: Yeah! That’s how I live my life! And it’s no good when you’re trying to foment revolution!

J: No! And I just want people to take more of an instrumental approach to these things. Anyway, that’s just my bug-bear. It doesn’t matter if we’re right and we lose.

T: [laughs] Well, what we have heard from Anna, at least, is the correctness of her analysis. And what we’re gonna do is send this out to our three listeners, and be like “you need to figure out a way to propagandise this, market this, so that Anna’s correctness is taken to the masses.”

A: Yeah, let the people know that I’m right.

J: That’s the most important thing.

A: Of course. [laughs]

T: So, Anna, thank you so much for coming on and having this really great conversation with us.

J: And we wanna have you on again, cause I have been known to dunk on farmers, and I just wanna say that I’m doing some self-crit. And I would like to formally apologise to my farmer comrades.

A: [laughs]

J: We are one in this struggle. [laughs]

T: Maybe we should just end this before Justine says anything else ridiculous. [laughs]
A: Thanks so much for having me, guys, it’s been awesome!

 

Ricardo

T: We have our returning champion, Ricardo, here with us from Auckland Action Against Poverty. Hello, Ricardo!

R: Kia ora korua!

T: I’m very sad to say, though, for those of our listeners who loved the ASMR thing that you did, that you are not in the office with us to record.

R: That’s okay. I’m sure we’ll get another ASMR segment.

J: Yeah. We’ll have to have a session. So, hi Ricardo. How are you?

R: I’m okay. [laughs]

J: Missed you. [laughs]

R: [laughs] Recovering after a messy budget week, but yes.

T: Oh, yeah. Messy AF.

R: Yep. Literally my bio on Tinder.

T: [laughs] Wow, I definitely swiped right on you, but it didn’t match. So let’s talk budget 2019. You know, I saw on Twitter, and we’ve talked about this throughout the episode, that people were crying with joy when they saw that benefit rates are going to be paired to average wages for the foreseeable future. Were you crying with joy, Ricardo?

R: [laughs] I think that the way the government packaged the welfare section of the budget was quite misleading, because it did lead a lot of people to believe that core benefit levels were going up. And once I explained what that meant, in terms of real monetary terms for people on the benefit, I think a lot of people felt quite deflated. Because the indexation changes are only going to make – I mean, compared to the current indexation process, it only means people will be getting an extra $17 a week in four years’ time. Which, you know… doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s recommended on the Welfare Expert Advisory Group. And it kind of accepts that benefit levels should be below the poverty line. So I was not crying with joy. I was deadpan with [laughs] disappointment and rage.

T: One of the members of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group is my PhD supervisor, and she was telling me that the working group members were really surprised by this announcement of indexation, because it’s not something that they asked for, strictly speaking. But also, it was being celebrated, when it’s not even– like, what they said was they wanted to see a huge increase in the actual rates of benefits. That’s not this! This does not even get close to what’s needed to bring out of poverty hundreds of thousands of people.

R: That’s right. And as many people have already noted, in the media and other parts, what should have happened is that core benefit levels should have been lifted, in my opinion, at least to match the living wage. I mean, that’s what I aspire to. But then, also, indexing them to average wages so that, as we change the benefit levels each year, they actually rise to an equitable level with wages. But that change alone means nothing, and as the WEAG members have said, it’s not what they actually asked for, or what they think is required in order to lift poverty levels substantially. I feel like the people celebrating are just the ivory parliamentary nerds who think this is some cool legislative change but, for those on the front lines, it means very little.

T: What about the Stop the Sanctions campaign? You guys successfully saw, as of the time of recording, last night, you won. It passed.

R: Yeah! We’re happy that this is a change that is finally coming into fruition. But I think what we have concerns around is: how are these tens of thousands of mums, who have been historically wrongfully sanctioned, going to be able to access their back-payments? At AAAP, some of the work that we do is working with the Ministry to get back-payments for those people. Some of these are like 20 grand, and life-changing for people on the benefit.

J: Yeah.

R: And Carmel keeps saying that, once the legislation comes into place in April 2020, that it won’t be retrospective. So I think there’s some work that needs to be done to ensure that people can access that historical wrongful injustice in back-payments. And so we’ve won that battle, but we haven’t won the war yet.

T: That’s firstly insane that, once again, it’s only coming in on the 1st of April 2020 when this is something they promised to do, like, straight away when they were campaigning. It’s an easy fix that’s causing so, so much harm to so many people, and people still have to wait another whole fucking year!

R: That’s right. And the Ministry could at least, in the meanwhile, implement a directive to not implement any new sanctions. I’m interested to see if they’re gonna do that. And this is why they should have started the process far earlier, because the way that parliament works is that, yeah, there’s some time-frames to work under when you change legislation, but if you knew there was gonna be this delay, they should have started it as soon as they came into power and not as their term is starting to end. And this probably signals that we’re not gonna see much welfare reform between now and the end of this term.

T: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, there are parliamentary delays between when a law passes and the date of assent. That’s normal. But this is… even ten months is way beyond the normal, and that’s because of the budgetary things, but it should have been pretty much done straight away. There’s no reason not to. So, in the budget, is there anything else promising for those families who are, right now, struggling to put food on the table, struggling to pay rent, struggling to get by, throughout Aotearoa?

R: No. [laughs] I mean, short answer is no. It’s really interesting to see the budget really… I guess the government is really celebrating the mental health injection of funding, but what I think is missing is discussions around, you know, how this injection of cash into mental health is actually just addressing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. People who have studied or work in this sector know that some of the biggest determinants of mental health well-being are access to adequate housing and incomes. And so it’s silly to be putting all this money into mental health if you’re not addressing things like housing and income. Again, in AAAP, when people come into our doors, what are the main reasons why their mental health has deteriorated? It’s because they’re constantly worrying if they have a place to live a week after. It’s silly to go to a free counselling session if that’s not going to address the fact that you’re gonna end up homeless, and the distress that comes as a result of that. So I think they’re not considering that they need to be putting far more money into those preventative health approaches.

J: Yeah. It’s really strange, cause we’re talking about how we have a mental health crisis in NZ as though it appeared from air, as though mental illness is just an individual pathology, and isn’t a result of the conditions in which we live! Like, the fact that we have such an enormous mental health crisis is due to mass incarceration, the housing crisis, low wage precarious work, debt, etc. That’s why I’m depressed! [laughs]

T: From my personal experience, I spent 6 months on the benefit, until the beginning of this month. And I had a relatively fine experience on the benefit, compared to many other people, partly because I’m Pakeha, and partly because of a whole heaps of other reasons in terms of my interactions with Work and Income staff, and the fact that I was eventually going to do my PhD. So I was very depressed and I got more depressed during the time I was on the benefit, directly because I didn’t have enough money and I was extremely stressed about money the entire time. But the single best thing for addressing my depression wasn’t therapy, wasn’t medication, it was literally starting my PhD, getting paid to do my PhD, so I had enough money to get by. Like, that was the single best medication I ever got. [laughs] And I don’t have kids! I am living with friends. I have lots of support from whanau. I cannot imagine the degree of stress and anguish that people who do have kids, and don’t have support, must be under on the benefit.

R: Yeah. And I think this is why it’s important to, again, contextualise mental health crisis as a symptom of a broken system. It’s not, like Justine said, appearing out of nowhere. It’s literally a symptom of what we have. What was interesting is that the government actually didn’t even have, in its budget – so I was in Wellington for the budget presentation – they didn’t even have a section on housing! [laughs] They just literally omitted housing as a section of the budget document, and the presentation! The only housing item they had was a small injection of cash to the Housing First programme, which I support in principle as a programme that recognises that, in order to address these issues around mental health or substance abuse, housing is the first thing you need to work on. But they only put 200 million dollars over four years, and that’s only gonna build about 1000 homes for the programme. So when you consider that, on the social housing waiting list, and we’ve actually got far more people who would benefit from being in public housing that are not on the list, this is a tiny, tiny concession, when we should have seen a huge injection of funding into Housing NZ and other public housing programmes, in order to build public housing at an industrial scale, as the WEAG recommended. So you’ve got the government’s own reports telling them “hey, you need to build a lot of public houses,” and the government’s just like, “nah.” [laughs] “We’re fine. We don’t need to.” And so there’s a real disconnect between the realities on the housing crisis and how the government is branding its well-being budget.

J: Yeah. But there’s a billion dollars being spent on building new prison beds. So it’s obviously resources well-allocated. [laughs] So, Ricardo, what could the government have done? I mean, we’re not economists, right?

T: Excuse me!

J: Okay, sorry, Ti’s apparently an economist now. [laughs] But we know they have a surplus. We know that they’ve committed to this austerity-by-stealth through the budget responsibility rules. If they’d put that away, what could they have done for beneficiaries?

R: Yeah, I mean, in the area of welfare, they could have done a range of things. One of them should have been ending this whole relationship stuff, and the nature of marriage stuff in the legislation. It really punishes people financially, but also it breaches people’s privacy as a result of the fraud investigations. So that would have been a really tangible thing to do. It probably would have not cost a huge lot to make that change. But also, of course it should have lifted income levels to a degree that would allow people to live with dignity. And I think, again, what’s missing in the conversation, even within a Keynesian lens, is that having income levels that allow people to live with dignity also means you end up having savings, and things like health, education, and justice. And so the government keeps talking about how much it’s gonna cost to increase benefit levels, but they never really talk about how much money they’re probably saving down the line, cause you don’t have people dying of rheumatic fever, or being imprisoned because they’re being criminalised due to their poverty conditions. So I think that’s what I would have liked to see. And I think it’s just the fiscally sound thing to do, I mean, even from a…. I know other economists have married those statements as well. So it’s a shame. It’s not surprising, but it is still a shame that we didn’t see anything in that area.

T: Absolutely. Well thank you so much for that, Ricardo. Another fantastic contribution.

J: To Shit Hot People’s Politburo, the most important project that you’ve been a part of to date. [laughs]

T: It really is. When Ricardo can look back on his life, he can be like “yeah, three times, I was on the greatest podcast that ever existed.”

R: Probably the only one where I get to do ASMR stuff so, you know, I think I am going to be looking back at that.

T: [laughs] You were really good at it.

R: Probably coming from the embarrassing amount of ASMR videos I have actually seen.

T: I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t know what ASMR was when you were doing that bit–

J: What??

T: And then subsequently, I was exposed to a whole world of ASMR.

J: I don’t even think you should be on this podcast. You’re deliriously out of touch. [laughs]

T: [laughs]

J: Okay, Ricardo, thank you so much. We miss you already. Have a wonderful day.

T: Bye!

R: [laughs] I miss you too!

 

Conclusion

T: So, dear comrades, as I hope you have heard from this episode, the 2019 well-being budget from the Labour government is another sham, and is another example of why the Labour Party is not your friend.

J: The well-being budget is not your friend.

E: I mean, this has to be the death knell for liberalism, right? If this is what liberal “well-being” looks like…

J: [laughs] I don’t think so, Emmy!

T: [laughs]

E: If this is the fucking best that third way neoliberal fucking centrist governments can give us, surely we’re done with this now?

T: No! Because they’re really good at spin! So liberals are fucking lapping this up, because they somehow think that this is progressive! They somehow think that all of this shit that we’ve just spent the last hour talking about… is a good thing? Because that’s what the spin is telling them!

J: If you look at, for instance, Obama’s presidency, right?
E: Yeah.

J: While it was happening, there was such a glow around Obama as this progressive figure, that everything he was actually doing kind of fell away. But it was all happening, and it was affecting people’s lives. So it doesn’t go away. Right now, that’s not what people are talking about. But they will be materially impoverished, right? The conditions won’t change. It’s just something that, right now, New Zealand’s collectively in denial about that will bear rotten fruit later, in terms of social upheaval. And I think you can see that with the strikes.

T: Yeah.
J: And I sort of have tweeted about this, but I really, really think there is a lot of industrial action going on for a fucking Labour government. The union movement doesn’t usually strike during a Labour government. That’s one of their unwritten rules, cause it’s seen as kind of antagonistic.

E: [laughs]

J: I’m not joking! I talked to a union official, and they were like “we don’t usually do this.” [laughs] I know, I know, Emmy! I know it drives you mad!

E: That’s why I sent you all those angry fucking e-mails!

J: Exactly. [laughs] So it’s interesting. There’s just interesting things happening.

T: We’ve talked on previous episodes about this being another austerity government. And it’s once again an austerity budget. But interestingly enough, austerity also always means more spending for criminal justice.

J: Cause it’s austerity for some things. It’s protecting… death. [laughs] Literally! It’s like, the deathly politics of neoliberalism guarding itself against social upheaval! I mean, what else is it?

T: It’s what Loic Wacquant calls “big government for the poor, small government for the rich”–

J: That’s a much nicer way of putting it.

T: In that the rich is not taxed, and they don’t experience much government.

E: And they’re not gonna be taxed. Jacinda’s been really clear on that.

T: But the poor, those who are on welfare, experience investigations for supposed relationship fraud, and are being sanctioned for this and that, and are under constant scrutiny from the Ministry of Social Development. That’s what it’s like to be on welfare in this country. And those at the bottom are much more likely to go to prison! And so that’s why it’s big government, always, for the poor. It’s always big intervention, and immiseration, in the lives of the poor, and nothing for everyone else.

J: The founders of neoliberalism also knew that. They sort of postured themselves as “anti-statist”, but they always knew that they would need the state to guard private property, to exercise force, to establish that monopoly on violence, and that’s exactly what you see with the Corrections and military budget. So this is textbook neoliberalism. But it’s just a question of how long we can go down this. This is what we’ve kind of been saying. It just feels like we’re hitting a point where it’s not business as usual. So we’ll see what happens.

T: Or we can’t continue with business as usual.

J: Austerity is sucking life. Again, I don’t wanna go into that Gothic language, but it literally means a continuing decline in livelihoods, in living standards. How can we accept that? How do we continue? We need a new politics! We need to be able to articulate a critique, and we need to be able to articulate a new vision for a new society.

T: If you wanna support people who are articulating that vision for a new society, support us on Patreon.com/peoplespolitburo.

E: [laughs]

T: We really need your support in order to keep going. And we really hope that you enjoyed this special episode. Let us know what you thought. It’s the kind of thing we’d like to do more of, and not just to depress you, but also…

J: To empower you.

T: Yeah. Because we need to be able to see through their bullshit, so that we can make a claim for the better world that we wanna see. So support us on Patreon, follow us, like us, share our shit, and do propaganda. That’s us! Bye!

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