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Insights 41: 28 October 2016
The Inequality Paradox: Why inequality matters even though it has barely changed
Dr Oliver Hartwich: Belgium proves Brexiteers right
Dr Oliver Hartwich: Top Ten

Hon. Hekia Parata: Amid the mortar we offer a bouquet
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
Science has it that you are more likely to remember the minute details of losing money, losing friends, and receiving criticism than you are about winning money, making friends, and receiving praise.

This may explain recent editorial furore and media commentaries recounting all the failures of the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, following her announcement that she will not be contesting in the 2017 elections.

Last month, Oliver Hartwich, Eric Crampton and I met with the Minister to talk about our report on school underperformance. Parata struck me as someone intolerant of complacency. I was impressed by the level of detail she commanded about the Ministry’s work and she sure kept me on my toes about details in our report.

That the Minister has had wins and losses, in a tough and often hostile environment, is no surprise. However, during five years at the helm, Parata challenged ideas that made the sector stagnant and led changes that would transform the education landscape.

Her legacy will be that of putting students first by promoting school partnerships, school accountability, and parents’ choice.

A select few wins are worth recounting lest the sector forgets.

First, the Minister won buy-in from teacher unions (after a few tweaks) to implement the Investing in Educational Success (IES) scheme. IES enables school-to-school collaboration as well as the progression and rewarding of effective teachers and principals.

The scheme also recognises the potential of incentives to get top leaders into poorly performing schools – often small schools.

Currently a principal’s salary is based on the size of their school roll rather than the size of the educational challenge. Under IES, capable principals can earn an additional $50,000 a year for taking up the challenge to turn-around a struggling school.

Partnership schools and online learning schools are wins too. These policies enable parents to choose the most suitable education for their children. This somewhat by-passes the restrictive zoning rules imposed on parents and successful schools.

Finally, Parata oversaw the recent passing of the Education Legislation Bill.  The Bill enshrines in law greater flexibility for schools. Among other provisions the Bill gives school boards the option for a capable principal to lead more than one school.

It may be true that we are more likely to recall negative events than favourable ones but it is important to give credit where it’s due. Minister Parata’s legacy of unapologetically putting students first should not be forgotten. 

Beehive’s campervan blind spot
Jason Krupp | Research Fellow |
If the mystification around the low local election turnout was not strong enough a signal that officials just do not get local government, the latest freedom camper rules review should amp it up.

The government is anticipating a deluge of freedom campers over the summer and at next year’s British and Irish Lions tour. These visitors are expected to run into a mishmash of different freedom camping rules as they travel the country, and Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga wants it sorted out.

From central government’s perspective this makes complete sense. With as many as 1,000 campervans expected for the Lions tour alone, that represents a lot of spending central government get to clip the ticket through GST, PAYE and profit taxes. Consistent and lenient rules would help maximise this stream of revenue.

The only problem is that it severely short-changes local councils, as they get lumped with all the direct costs, such as additional clean up services and the capital expense of upgrading facilities like public toilets. And it is ultimately local residents that pay in the end.

There are indirect costs too. Plans to open land for freedom campers are guaranteed to irritate local residents because they have to live with the noise and litter. Councils bear the brunt of this unhappiness too, to say nothing of the reputational damage from bad press.

There is an upside in that freedom campers boost trade among some local businesses, and these businesses pay rates. But the gains are narrowly focused, difficult to quantify, and do little to quell angry residents.

As such, it is hardly surprising that many councils limit the scale of freedom camping in their jurisdiction with stringent bylaws.

A better way for central government to approach this problem would be to share the economic gains. That way councils would be better able to show communities the local upsides of the activity, and provided the reward is great enough, encourage councils to expand facilities. It is win-win-win.

Based on history, the odds of this happening are low. A more likely outcome is a standardised set of rules being forced on councils. In an environment where local preference is all but entirely disregarded by central government, is it any wonder that the public is largely disengaged with local democracy?

Feel good goals from the United Nations
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
This week the United Nations named Wonder Woman honorary ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Apparently she “will be tasked with raising awareness about Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals”. This “seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030”.

Good for her. After all, the task is a bit too challenging for the United Nations alone.

There is precious little empowerment going on in significant parts of the world. Oppressive religions and dictatorships abound. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency an “unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home.” A few flips of the whip from Wonder Woman should fix those problems.

When you think about it, harnessing Wonder Woman to the pursuit of worthy goals is a game changer.

Until now politicians have been rewarded for committing to worthy goals in the distant future on demand. United Nation-led climate change goals for 2100 are a case in point. Worthy goals feel good. They demonstrate “our” good intentions. Their emptiness has been a bit of an embarrassment, but with Wonder Woman on hand that problem disappears–doesn’t it?

What about the United Nation’s Goal 1 in this series? It is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. What decent person could oppose that? Even better, the goal reportedly requires signatories, including New Zealand, to halve the proportions of those living in poverty “according to national definitions” by 2030.

But how can Wonder Woman achieve this goal without a national definition? Happily, the recent UN Committee on the Rights of the Child's report on New Zealand spotted this problem. It recommended that the government proclaim a national definition of poverty.

Prime Minister John Key pointed out that there was no generally accepted definition. Why not focus instead on those who really need help? Good question!

Professor Jonathan Boston proposes multiple official definitions. Halve the incidence according to every definition regardless of cost and efficacy? Yet, if addressing poverty is the moral thing to do, as Boston argues, surely it matters how it is defined and surely the cost is also a moral issue?

Would Wonder Woman care how it was defined? Perhaps not. But those bearing the cost will care.
On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graph(s) of the week: Your life in numbers.
  • A day in the life of: When Paula Bennett was PM for the day.
  • Baldrick means Baldrick.
  • A self-driving truck delivers beer 200km away.
  • Reporter eats pies for a month, loses 8kg.
  • The least you can do for global poverty is better than the best you can do.
  • Has the Vice Fund ever not outperformed the share market?
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