Speaker by Various Artists

14

The light train to Roskill

by Simon Wilson

Is Andrew Little’s promise of light rail to Mr Roskill a byelection bribe? Does John Key have any idea at all what his own Auckland transport plan looks like?

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The barrier arms are coming down and the bells are going clang clang clang and there’s John Key, jumping out onto the railway tracks and going nah nah nah, that train’s not gonna hit me.

Maybe it won’t. But his statements yesterday about Labour’s proposal for light rail to Mt Roskill reveal a surprisingly casual disregard not just for the facts, but for his government’s own position.

Some people say, hey, it’s a by-election, they’re all going to bribe us and lie their heads off. But that’s not true. Labour is the favourite in this election but National has a decent chance. One year out from the general election, it’s a terrific opportunity for both parties to show us they are in functional order and for us to assess what the differences really are.

Opposition leader Andrew Little announced a Labour-led government would build light rail (that is, modern trams, running on tracks set into the roads) from Wynyard Quarter up Queen St and down Dominion Rd to Stoddart Rd in Mt Roskill. It would be done within 10 years, and paid for half by government from the existing long-term transport budget and half by council.

John Key straightaway dissed the plan. He even told RNZ’s Morning Report the “people best placed to decide these things” did not support it, and named the Auckland Council, Auckland Transport (an arm of council) and NZTA (a central government agency). He said these bodies had decided against fast-tracking light rail on the Auckland isthmus and were not even sure light rail is a good option at all. It might be, he said, that “rapid buses” are better.

His minister for regional development Steven Joyce called Little’s plan “pork barrel politics taken to a whole new level”.

What’s wrong with that?

Quite a lot. To start with, Key does not really believe the “best people” to decide Auckland transport policy are Auckland agencies. He believes the government is. If he thought Auckland should decide, he’d go ahead and legislate for that to happen.

Second, the government was not an uninvolved bystander in the decision on light rail he cited. The government drove the decision. Key was referring to the Auckland Transport Alignment Accord (ATAP), an agreement between the government and the council, announced just last month and involving AT, NZTA and others, over long-term transport planning in Auckland.

One of ATAP’s key decisions was to delay approval of and funding for light rail until after 2028. Key is right about that. But the government led the ATAP process. Finance Minister Bill English and Transport Minister Simon Bridges had the senior role in negotiations and it’s clear from my sources that it was they who insisted, against the wishes of council, that light rail not be advanced in the next 10 years.

Third, while Key is right that “rapid buses” are an option for rapid transit on some routes (no one now denies the spectacular success of the Northern Busway), he’s not right to imply they might be the long-term solution for the city. Buses carry far fewer people than trains, clog up the roadways and have nowhere to go when they get into town. Rapid bus transit is a transitional solution: the Northern Busway will one day become the Northern rail line.

The fourth problem with John Key’s response to Andrew Little’s announcement is what it reveals about the government’s approach to transport planning. There’s a split in their ranks.

ATAP is government policy – it’s a formal signed agreement between the central and local governments. As negotiated by English and Bridges it represents a clear commitment to a long-term plan that includes light rail and relies far more on public transport in general than used to be the case under this government.

But Key and Joyce have seemed almost unaware of all that. Their dismissive comments suggest “long-term”, to them, means “not our problem”. Joyce v English: it’s going to be like having a fascinating fight on the undercard as we head towards the main event, the general election.

As for the accusation of pork-barrel politics: promising to fast-track measures to address the city’s transport crisis is exactly what we need from our politicians. It’s not cynical, it’s not a bribe, and it’s not pie-in-the-sky nonsense like Joyce’s 10 bridges were in the Northland by-election last year. It’s an actual plan, already agreed to in principle by Joyce’s government, to address a real and very pressing problem.

And what about Andrew Little? What was wrong about what he said?

It made him look like he wasn’t onside with the new mayor, that’s what. Goff wasn’t even at the policy announcement, having run the 5km leg of the Auckland Marathon that morning and then gone home to strain fences, or whatever he does on Sunday afternoons on the Clevedon farm.

He did respond, though, by saying the council was not about to commit to a 50 per cent share in the cost of building the light rail line.

That was predictable. Goff has promised to keep rates rises under 2.5 per cent and is about to start work on the council’s next long-term plan (LTP). This is the 10-year budget that gets updated every three years. It would be absurd for him to announce a major funding commitment outside of that process.

But Goff is on record in favour of light rail on the isthmus.

Given the predictability of Goff’s response, why didn’t he and Little find a way to avoid the impression of a disagreement? Labour colleagues in Parliament for years – don’t these people talk?

That impasse raises the two biggest issues of the whole proposal. The first is that transport planning for Auckland will not progress much until new sources of funding are introduced. Central city congestion charges, motorway tolls, a regional fuel tax or other measures: none of them can happen unless the government legislates to allow it. Labour needs to renew its commitment to making that happen, or Little’s light rail proposal won’t be going anywhere.

The second big issue has been hinted at by both Little and Goff but not spelled out. Little said the government’s share of the cost could come from the strategic transport budget, which is currently reserved for roads. Goff said urban light rail could be regarded as a road of national significance, which would qualify it for 100 per cent government funding.

Both statements point to the fact that central government planning for roads and rail currently happens under separate processes and separate budgets. It’s a major weakness. Transport planning should be fully integrated. We need the transport agencies to stop asking, what roads do we need, and start asking, what are the best ways to get people (and freight) from here to there?

We’d make a lot more progress if proposals like light rail to Mt Roskill could be considered in that context. Little hasn’t announced this as Labour policy, but the indications are that he could do so.

As for Parmjeet Parmar, National’s list MP who wants that Mt Roskill seat, she weighed in on the light rail proposal by saying it wasn’t important and they should all be talking about far more immediate needs – like extra bus stops.

Improving existing services in Mt Roskill is certainly a good thing to do. But that’s what we have a council for. It’s their job. Parliament’s job is oversight of strategic planning for this fast-growing city. It would be nice to think MPs like Dr Parmar understood that.

2

Istanbul 2016

by Clinton Logan

A man squeezes a thick line of translucent yellow adhesive into a plastic bag, places it over his face, and inhales into the deep recesses of his lungs. As he lurches about in a glue-fueled frenzy, a woman in a niqab shuffles past, eyes fixed ahead. 

The kebab chef looks on unimpressed.

It's Friday night and Eren is maintaining his usual post outside the Peyote club — a tiny venue for Turkish experimental rock. Encased in a city of 14 million people, his "I need more space" tee shirt sums up the situation nicely.

South of the spice market, Omer frantically bags coffee for their perpetual line of customers. The coffee is amazing and everyone knows it. Although he's too shy to look at my camera, I still manage to crack a smile out of him.

Two blocks away in the service alley that spills into Tomruk Sokak street, Moscava sits to ponder his life as a "viagra" salesman. His diamond shaped blue pills sell for 4% of US retail. Pfizer will tell you they're full of rat poison, and he'll swear they're genuine.

Istanbul is built on an absolutely fascinating collision of cultures. The seventh most populous city in the world, it's intoxicatingly vast, cool, and unpredictable. 

Earlier in the day, Engin Akdoğan, a well spoken carpet salesman, invited me in for a cup of Turkish tea. The cynical would chalk it up to a common sales ploy, however it runs deeper than that.

"Watch out we're dangerous carpet salesmen— Worst than terrorists!"

Engin clearly had a sixth sense for my love of dark, twisted humour. I was hooked with his opening line.

From the outset I confessed my mode of transport was not conducive to buying a rug, however he still wanted to chat. For two hours we had the most remarkable conversation over successive cups of tea.

In a city that's practically void of western tourists these days, the subject of fear surfaced pretty quickly. I discussed my theory of people's trepidation of the South. Every trip I've had it expressed to me. Canadians think the US is dangerous, Americans think Mexico is dangerous, Mexicans are convinced you'll die in Colombia, Auckland fears the Canterbury rugby team (with good reason.) Even on this journey I had a six foot tall, 230 Lb, armed Ukrainan border guard plead with me. 

"Don't go to Turkey!... Don't go to Turkey!" 

He repeated it for emphasis.

Engin asked about my travels and I discussed my plans to eventually store my motorcycle in Bulgaria for the winter.

It's clear the east adopts a much more holistic approach to life, and welcoming guests is a significant part of Islamic etiquette. It's incredibly uplifting to experience this genuine compassion for strangers, which makes the current climate in Turkey especially heartbreaking.

Engin's store is situated just 800 meters from where a suicide bomber recently detonated themselves. The eleven attacks this year coupled with the failed military coup two months ago have decimated the tourist industry here. Engin hasn't sold a rug in a very long time. 

Yet he remains upbeat. His relationship with life is inspiring.

I was conscious of not absorbing anymore of this man's time so I shook his hand and we parted ways. As I stepped onto the cobblestone street, Engin looked at me with a wry grin.

"Clinton, Be careful in Bulgaria... it's dangerous!"

9

"The Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts"

by Matthew Bannister

"The Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts," says Hermione Grainger in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The occasion? An address by Dolores Umbridge, Ministry of Magic employee (and new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher) to Harry's school, Hogwarts, on the first day of a new term.

At the end of the preceding book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry witnessed the return of the Dark Lord, Voldemort, to human form, and the whole Phoenix book is shadowed by his presence.

But what does a children's book have to do with present-day New Zealand? Education is a political football - the government of the day always tries to impose its ideas on the system that supposedly moulds young minds, and provides opportunity for indoctrination.

Children and young people are always a focus of social and political concern, because "they're the future", they are "vulnerable" and because they have little voice of their own. Thus, well-meaning interest groups (particularly those in power) can impose their thoughts and fantasies, rehearsing them first in the media: "Educational standards slipping at Hogwarts" – remind you of Granny Herald at all? 

Dolores Umbridge's speech is a parody of the banal, smokescreen rhetoric that politicians routinely convey: "The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance ... Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited."

It puts the audience to sleep – it's supposed to. Only Hermione is smart enough to see it for what it is – a Ministry attempt to hijack the running of the school. Any parallels with present day NZ? You bet.

The Education Amendment Act 2015 changed the constitution of university and polytechnic ruling bodies to increase the number of Government appointees and minimise the involvement of teachers and students. Government appointees are usually from the private sector and their mission is to transform tertiary institutions from places of learning to places of business. If learning doesn't pay, in other words, it will be cut.

The first victim of such cuts is inevitably the arts and humanities. These disciplines have a tradition of debate and discussion. But in Umbridge's DADA class, asking questions is the one thing you're not allowed to do. The skills taught in the humanities, of writing, creating, thinking and arguing are not deemed "useful" (but who decides what is useful?).

So when Harry asks Umbridge why they won't be learning to defend themselves against the Dark Arts, she responds that there is nothing to defend oneself against. No arguments please - ten points from Gryffindor. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, to paraphrase John Key on the GCSB.

Next thing, Hogwarts teachers find themselves under surveillance, their curricula checked for appropriate content. Then classes start getting closed down: the sacking of Trelawney, and the replacement of Dumbledore by Umbridge. This is happening right now, all over New Zealand (actually all over the world); arts departments being slashed to the bone – UNITEC in 2013, the University of Otago right now. And it's coming to a place of learning near you, very soon.

There are parallels between Umbridge and our present Minister of Education. Umbridge seems homely and mumsy - she likes kittens and pink cardigans, but under the innocuous exterior are sharp claws.

It's pretty clear that the present Government is appointing women (Maori women moreover) in sensitive portfolios like social services and education. This is a clever way of defusing criticism from the Left and the politically correct, as it is difficult to attack them without looking sexist and racist.

Umbridge's veneer of mumsy femininity is the Trojan horse used to storm the Hogwarts ramparts, and Maori women are being used to ram home reforms aimed at neutering the critical potential of the education sector, as well as attacking the Muggles of NZ society - the unemployed, the "idle", beneficiaries, the mentally ill, ethnic minorities, anyone who doesn't own a house. Their numbers are growing every day. How long before you find yourself branded Undesirable by the Ministry, a blood traitor? Pure blood status guaranteed as long as you keep up your interest payments. 

The Ministry of Magic's policy is to keep up a "business as usual" front and deny the truth (known only to Harry) that Voldemort is back. This is pretty similar to the situation many tertiary teachers in New Zealand (and worldwide) find themselves in today. They are told that student numbers are falling and that the fault is in the way they teach, so they have no alternative but to accept reforms.

But I don't think how they teach is the real issue. The real issue is Mammon – privatising education, and if this means dumbing down and drawing the teeth of one of the few institutions still capable of critiquing the present order, that is all to the good.

John Key isn't Voldemort, he's more like Cornelius Fudge, possibly acting under the Imperius curse - his true master, Voldemort, is neoliberal global capitalism which wants to turn everything, from ideas to the water we drink and the air we breathe into a commodity. Maybe you think I'm just one of those Internet conspiracy theorists - but that's what they said about Harry too. 

Matthew Bannister is an author, musician and Lecturer and Postgraduate Theory Supervisor in the School of Media Arts at the Waikato Insititute of Technology (Wintec).

1

Rise of the Censor Bots Parts 1 and 2

by James Rae Brown

You may have noticed that I haven't posted much on Public Address lately – that's because I've just started a big, cool project that has been taking me away from my desk. On top of that, I have an interesting but very technical and somewhat overdue feature story to finish. (That's also why I may not have answeerd your email.)

But happily, we are something of a content-creation household, and when I arrived back from travelling on Monday night, my son Jim asked me if I'd noticed that he had posted a couple of new YouTube videos. So I had a look and they're smart and funny. Fuckin' funny, even.

Jim says: "This is an idea I got when YouTube started demonetising videos on the site that weren't 'advertiser friendly'. I've decided to make comedy out of it."

Enjoy. Cheers, Russell.

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8

Our Mental Health System: Let’s have a sensible discussion

by Andrea Bates

Our mental health system has been the focus of much attention of late, as have the mental health services that operate under this system. It’s long past time we had an informed discussion as a nation about mental health, so thank you to Russell for the opportunity to add to the korero.

As always when discussing an integral aspect of human life, there are often a lot of voices saying things for reasons that are not clear, or which are aimed at achieving unknown outcomes. For the sake of clarity I am writing this as a person who uses mental health services, whose work includes the mental health system, and who stays up to date on developments in knowledge and practice. I believe our mental health system is long overdue for examination and change, I know that the framework for this already exists, and I know that our mental health workers of all job titles are already working to do things differently.

The people who work in our mental health services are, in my personal and work experience, thoughtful and caring people who want to effectively support the people who our mental health system exists for – people who experience mental health crises and people who experience mental health conditions.

Our mental health system, which is governed by legislation that Parliament passed and continues to authorise, limits our mental health workers capacity to work to their best. A simple example is that under theMental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 a person can be coerced by our system if they are seen as a possible harm to themselves. What this practically means is that anyone who has become aware of our system is extremely hesitant to discuss suicidal thoughts with mental health workers. Why would you, if you knew there was a risk you would be locked up against your will when you have done nothing wrong?

Everyone who interacts with mental health services knows that the greatest tool any mental health worker has is the therapeutic relationship that develops between them, the service user – and the service users whanau, if the service user chooses.

How can that therapeutic relationship operate when the system that governs it ensures that important truths are withheld? How can there be trust when both people know this is standard? How can a mental health worker manage this dance without being hauled in front of the Health and Disability Commission and risking their years of training and experience if they don’t toe our system's line? How can a service user in crisis get the support they know they want when they fear the consequences of asking for it? That is not a system that is fit for purpose.

Every now and again, you hear someone associated with the mental health system saying that if we just put more money into our current system everything will be fine. They often raise the spectre of the "violent and dangerous crazy person" as justification, even though there is no research to validate this stereotype.

These sorts of comments often come back to the thorny issue of causation. People who experience a mental health crisis understandably want to know what is going on. In our society there are many explanations offered as if they are truths. Unfortunately for people wanting certainty, the honest answer is that we don’t know. Despite stories of chemical imbalances and genetic markers we actually have no proof of a biological or genetic cause for mental health crises and/or mental health conditions.

The idea of a chemical imbalance still crops up despite people like the former head of the American Psychiatric Association, a painfully old-school outfit, saying:

‘…[T]he “chemical imbalance” image has been vigorously promoted by some pharmaceutical companies, often to the detriment of our patients’ understanding. In truth, the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend- – never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”  [Psychiatric Times, “Psychiatry’s New Brain-Mind and the Legend of the “Chemical Imbalance” July 11, 2011]

Nonetheless, we are not entirely in the wilderness. If we imagine a bucket with ‘probable causal elements of mental health crises/conditions’ written on its side there are a number of things we can add to it.

I don’t believe that there are many people who would claim there is not likely to be some element of biology involved. Equally, in due course of time it is likely that some genetic component will be identified. Also there will be the impact of the unseen, often described as wairua or spirituality, which needs to go in our bucket. We also need to add environment including natural, built and whanau environments.

The element that we have the greatest amount of evidence for is the impact of trauma. It could be a natural trauma such as an earthquake, or it could be the experiences listed in the Adverse Childhood Events study, or intergenerational trauma as explored through the families of Holocaust survivors, or the many experiences of abuse and neglect covered in the trauma research.

There are likely to be more things added to our bucket as experience and research uncover new knowledge, and as our understanding of the interactions between any causal elements develops.

The best part about knowing what we don’t know is that it provides us with an opportunity for developing useful responses. The media has let us all know that there is increasing demand for mental health services. Given what we know about causation we can’t claim that some broken brain fever is loose in our country.

Rather, we know that the way we are living has increased the number of bad things happening to people which have impacts on their lives, and some of these people are experiencing mental health crises and/or mental health conditions.

The issue is not with mental health services. The issue is that our mental health system needs to look at the social determinants of mental health. That means we need government policies for early interventions that work across government departments. The ministers and departments who need to work together on this include Health, Employment, Social Development, Children, Maori, Pacific, Justice and Housing – at least.

We also need to incorporate the work of our leaders with lived experience, such as Sir John Kirwan and Mike King, who have put in the hard yards in this area for years. The personal risks John and Mike have chosen to take by their presence and honesty have shown a lot of people that mental health crises and mental health conditions are part of life, and it is how the person and how all of us respond to their experience that makes all the difference.

Until as a nation we really look at how we see each other and how we treat each other, and particularly how we see and treat our young people, we will continue to see an expanding flow of people into mental health services.

Making our mental health system fit for purpose will require Parliament to act. Our current system hinges on the Mental Health Act, a piece of legislation that it is 24 years old and does not reflect current knowledge. As a country, we have already agreed to follow the way forward that has been set out. We have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which includes mental health) and we are signatories to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Putting our obligations into practice is something our Parliamentarians have been obliged to do, and have yet to do. How our Parliament ratified the Disability Convention and let our mental health legislation stand despite advice of conflicts from the New Zealand Law Society continues to be staggering. You can see the extent of that ongoing breach by googling “CRPD Article 14 Guidelines”. In these guidelines the CRPD Committee has been very clear about part of the work our Parliament needs to catch up on.

For people in my community it is past time that these matters are comprehensively addressed. For our whole country to have a healthy and productive population we cannot have a crisis-based mental health system. That means we all need our Parliament to pass a single piece of capacity legislation that covers all people with permanent and impermanent diminished capacity. We need our Parliament to recognise that no one needs decisions made for them, but sometimes a person may want support in decision-making and be able to receive it. And we need our Parliament to examine the 159 legislative instruments on our books today that contain the phrase “mental health” and to repeal every one of them that is discriminatory.

Most of all, we need our Parliament to work with all people with lived experience to create a mental health system that works for us and proves to everyone in this country that we are all human beings who hold the same intrinsic value as each other.

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Andrea Bates is the co-founder of Wellbeing Wellington.