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Insights 13: 15 April 2016
The Health of the State panel discussion will debate lifestyle regulations in Wellington on 20 April
Dean Barry from the Canadian High Commission in Canberra presents Communities of Care: How Canada welcomes so many refugees
Dr Oliver Hartwich discusses pre-Budget tax announcements on The Paul Henry Show

New Zealand is not Panama
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
There are a few things that New Zealand and Panama have in common. Both are home to about four million people. Both have fantastic beaches (though theirs are warmer than ours). And Panamanians are as crazy about baseball (or ‘beisbol’, as they call it) as Kiwis are about rugby.

But that is roughly where the similarities end. Which makes it surprising just how quickly commentators jumped from the Panama Papers to assumptions about New Zealand’s offshore trusts regime. It is even more surprising since no New Zealanders were mentioned in the papers.

For a start, there is an obvious difference in legal and political culture. One only has to look at The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. New Zealand is ranked sixth whereas Panama comes 49th.

The claim that New Zealand was home to tax-evasion models similar to those revealed in the Panama Papers is just that: a claim. Thus far, we have not seen any evidence that the practices of the now infamous Mossack Fonseca law firm have any equivalent here.

Though it is true that offshore trusts operating in New Zealand enjoy favourable conditions, that does not make New Zealand an offender.

New Zealand is a member of international organisations such as the Financial Action Task Force, the OECD and the WTO. Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse correctly pointed out that the OECD reviewed New Zealand’s tax transparency regime and rated it fully compliant.

Rather than following reflexes to draw parallels that may not exist, it would have been wiser to calmly check the facts first.

However, political reflexes continued when the Prime Minister announced the review of the foreign trust disclosure regime. This time, the government’s critics focused on the person selected for the job, former PwC chair John Shewan.

For full disclosure, John and I are both on the selection committee for the Robin Oliver Tax Policy Scholarships. What he brings to this pro-bono role is not just decades of experience in tax matters but also a genuine commitment to good tax policy.

I would imagine that this background was precisely why Shewan was also chosen to review the offshore regime. That he has previous practical experience is not a drawback but the requirement for a thorough review.

Before jumping to any premature conclusions, we should give Shewan a fair chance to conduct his review. Maybe that is not the way things are done in Panama, but that is how we do things here.

Learning from others
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an admired African novelist, once said ‘show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become’.

It sounds like a cliché but it applies neatly to the portrayal of our schools and students.

This week the Herald released its annual league tables ranking all secondary schools on the basis of 2015 academic results.

If you were a parent wanting to choose a school for your child and you valued academic excellence, you would naturally start at the top of those league tables. And likely to no surprise, you will note that the most successful schools are in the leafy suburbs.

Typically, higher decile schools are rewarded with public praise while lower decile schools are punished. Schools that have not met national targets are labelled as poor performers.

However the story is incomplete because the rankings fail to show how much each school helped its students to improve. Should a school that brings its students from years behind national benchmarks to only a few months behind be considered a failure?

This is an area the Initiative has been looking at in our project on school failure. The first report in the series makes a case that New Zealand needs better metrics of school quality.

The issues identified in the report are not unique to New Zealand. Indeed for the second phase of the project, I will visit Washington DC to learn about how improved measures of performance have supported student achievement.

The DC Public School district has in recent years revamped their teacher evaluation processes to include measures that show how much students learn in different classrooms. Initial reviews show overall improvement in teacher quality and in student learning outcomes.

In New Zealand, current indicators of performance do not take into account students’ backgrounds. Principals and teachers may then be fighting a battle they cannot win if their quality continues to be judged on matters they cannot control.

The young students too are impressionable. If their schools continue to be consistently ranked at the bottom of the performance tables, they may start believing that the bottom is all they can do.

The DC example provides an opportunity to learn from other jurisdictions that are being innovative in their school improvement approaches.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Jenesa Jeram | Policy Analyst |
If there is one lesson I have taken away from high school English, it is that all movies have deep and hidden meanings that were embedded by the director to reward smart people.
Well, at the risk of making others feel inferior for not observing this, I would like to point out the political brilliance of Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is not your typical Kiwi comedy. It is nuanced political commentary on the rise of paternalism. It may even be the most libertarian film New Zealand has produced.
I will admit, I too would have been blind to its genius if I hadn’t been so inspired by recent academic approaches to New Zealand film.
But after discovering a doctoral thesis studying the kinds of tourists who visit Lord of the Rings sets, I unequivocally support deepening this pool of knowledge.
The genre of New Zealand libertarian comedy is limited, which may explain why it has yet to receive the attention it deserves. Before this cinematic gem, the closest thing was probably David Seymour’s 2014 campaign video, which has clocked 41,491 views on YouTube (though the jury’s still out over whether the humour was intentional).
Wilderpeople centres around a young boy, Ricky, who is taken into foster care. When the foster mother dies, the state decides it is not appropriate to leave the boy in the care of the foster father. Rather than surrender to the state, Ricky joins the father in “going bush”.
So what are the libertarian themes here?
First, the state can be power-hungry. It can be incompetent. And can grossly misinterpret what people want for themselves.
In the film, Paula the child welfare officer expresses little concern for the boy she is tasked with taking into state care. Her mission to find Ricky is a test of her ego. The help Ricky receives from the state is neither particularly helpful nor welcome. The film in its entirety is a wonderful ode to freedom.
Maybe the New Zealand arts scene isn’t ready to come out of the closet as libertarian yet. Then again, maybe this is all a bit of a stretch: an attempt to add layers of meaning where it is not needed.
Either way, I hope someday libertarian comedy receives as much scholarly attention as feminist glacial theory, the cultural impact of Kanye West, and how Harry Potter reinforces white privilege .

On The Record
All Things Considered
  • You may think you look perfectly sober after a few drinks...but do you really? These photos capture the (rather cute!) expressions of people after one and three drinks.
  • When you have no words, sometimes a carefully selected emoji steps in and takes over. Except when it doesn't - different people, and devices, have many different interpretations of our favourite little emoticons.
  • What happens to historic landmarks in a natural disaster? Turns out few cities plan for the protection of iconic landmarks and buildings
  • The Indian PM sure has a good grip on things
  • Facebook's great. Not just for stalking people you've never even laid eyes on, but now you can get free health advice too.
  • One wonders if man's best friend is still in the good books after this little inky mishap...
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