letters · politics

A letter I wrote to the Minister of Education re: sexual consent education, and its response.

In response to a rape jokes scandal in a New Zealand school, the then Minister of Education Hekia Parata ruled out compulsory consent education – saying that it was best addressed in the family.

I sent an email to here, and here’s the response I got.

I wrote:

Hi Hekia.

I write to regarding the comments you made as reported in this RNZ article: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/326678/wellington-college-students-suspended-for-rape-comments

“Today, Education Minister Hekia Parata ruled out introducing compulsory education around sexual consent in high schools, saying the subject was best addressed in a family setting.

Ms Parata said the issue was a conversation for parents to have with their children, and schools had the freedom to supplement the pupils’ education if they wanted to.”

For context, I’m 31 year old pakeha male.

I think this is a disappointingly regressive attitude.

I got my sex education in 1997-2000. It covered use of condoms, STIs and pregnancy. I wish it had covered sexual consent, because there are certain regrettable situations I’ve been involved in which consent education might have prevented.

I think compulsory consent education is a no brainer, if not a bit of minefield to navigate.

All the best,

David Johnston

The response: (PDF)

Dear David

The Minister of Education, Hon Hekia Parata, has asked me to reply to your email of 15 March 2017 about the introduction of compulsory education around sexual consent.

Teaching children and young people respect for others is a responsibility for all of us; something they learn at home and school, both in what they are told, and what they observe around them.

As part of this shared responsibility, The New Zealand Curriculum recognises that schools work with children and young people on the skills they need to navigate personal relationships and sexual identity.

Sexuality education is a compulsory part of our health and physical education curriculum, which schools must deliver in Years 1 to 10. The Ministry of Education expects schools to follow the guidance we issued in 2015, this can be found at http://health.tki.org.nz/Teaching-in-HPE/Policy-guidelines/Sexuality-education-a-guide-for-principals-boards-of-trustees-and-teachers This guidance spells out what should be covered by sexuality education. For secondary schools, that detail sets out a clear pathway through topics including consent, coercion and sexual violence.

Our guidance puts identity and sexuality firmly in the context of relationships with others. It covers the skills of self-knowledge, assertiveness and caring that are central to healthy relationships. Students learn about personal boundaries in sexuality education. From the beginning, we expect schools to teach children to identify safe and unsafe touching and the importance of respect. By Years 6 to 7, students are identifying pressures from others and developing assertiveness strategies.

Schools are required to consult with their communities every two years, or more often, about how they teach sexuality education. It is one of the reasons there is variation from school to school in teaching this subject. Any teaching programme discussing consent requires an understanding of empathy and respect for others’ feelings. So at the heart of sexuality education, again from a young age, is material on affirming the feelings and beliefs of others.

Many secondary schools and communities include consent in their sexuality education. Many schools also hold forums outside scheduled classes where important issues such as consent, coercion and safety in intimate relationships can be debated and discussed.

We encourage all schools to look at what they are doing on sexuality education with their school community.

Thank you for taking the time to share your views.

Glen Johnson
Acting Group Manager Pathways and Progress Early Learning and Student Achievement

It’s an interesting response – pretty comprehensive and pro-consent education – and completely at odds with Hekia’s comment.

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observation · politics

The four kinds of National voter.

  1. The will-always-vote-National voter

    This voter supports National the same way a sports fan supports a particular team. It’s likely that they vote the same way their parents did. It’s not a kind of support that comes from consideration of policy, rather it’s just backing a team.

  2. The house-owning voter

    Although not explicitly – National pretty much ran on a policy of not doing anything about the housing crisis. Their single housing specific policy was to increase the first home buyer grant, which is great if you’re the one selling your house. There’s $10,000 more you can sell your house for.

    I think a lot of kiwis who have already bought houses, don’t want to see an end to the housing crisis. They want to see houses continue to rise – so they can double their money like they’ve seen others do.

  3. The I-don’t-like-beneficiaries voter

    I think a lot of New Zealanders are sick of what they see as a perverse incentive to welfare dependency in New Zealand – and they’re not without merit.

    The single thing I’m most critical of Labour and Green about is their head-in-the-sand ‘everybody should have kids if they want them’ attitude. For educated middle class New Zealanders who put off having kids till they’re in their 30s, seeing a system that seems to enable people who care about their kids far less they do, they can’t abide by.

  4. The I-believed-Nationals-lies voter

    National conducted a campaign of fear mongering about inheritance taxes, and lies about Labour increasing income tax or not budgeting properly.

    This has always been National’s strategy – portray Labour as idealistic but incompetent, and that somehow ‘greedy = good business sense’- ignoring that during the last Labour government – they managed to quite successfully produce a budget surplus.

politics

Cynicism in practise.

The show isn’t over yet, but assuming National does form a forth-term government:

Consolation prize – yay I get a $20/week tax cut in April 2018.

I’ve had a resolution to give money to charity since I started my career four years ago. Back then it was $250, and while my income has gone up >50%  since then, the amount I’m giving is still $250.

I could give the entirety of this tax cut to charity, making my donation $1000 or more.

This reddit thread entitled ‘Practical things you can do if you’re feeling discouraged with our political situation’ suggests doing something like that.

The problem I have – is this feels like a free rider effect or prisoners dilemma – where New Zealanders as a whole have voted against equality. Putting the onus on individuals to support charity essentially means that the more well off New Zealanders who aren’t supporting charity, are freeriding on the social benefits that the charity provides.

On the otherhand, I could be saving the money, and in attempt to scramble up the wealth gap and be on the privileged side of the wealth gap.

This is, in effect cynicism in practise. Like a prisoner’s dilemma example, if appears like the other person isn’t going to cooperate – then it clearly is the rational move to not cooperate myself.

Perhaps there’s a third option. Not giving the money to something alleviating poverty in New Zealand, but something supporting a political party I respect (Which one though? I don’t like Labour/Green’s head in the sand attitude towards welfare dependency, and I don’t like TOP’s controversy politics) – or perhaps – supporting research for male contraception.

 

politics

Post-truth politics, Trumpism, and cynicism.

The results of the 2017 New Zealand General Election are disappointing.

It’s a little disappointing that we have a national-populist in the position of kingmaker – but what the real issue is that National got 46% of the vote.

If I were to summarise what people were voting on this election, with the caveat that I’m possibly in my own ideological bubble, it was voting on ‘supporting welfare dependency’ vs ‘supporting liars’.

For me, it’s disappointing that in regards to the dishonest tactics National used in this election, that so many voters either believed the lies, or thought the lies were an acceptable technique in our political process.

From an outside perspective looking at Trump-era America, it’s mind-boggling to many that Donald Trump still commands a 40% approval rating.

I wouldn’t equate the National Party with Donald Trump – I don’t think they practise the overtly bigoted, uncivil or hateful rhetoric that Trump does – but they have been practising a similar lack of regard for the truth the Trump does.

Other than that people who voted were apparently ok with National untruths, it’s also disappointing how many people didn’t vote in their own interests. This election had a 78% turnout, up from 74% in 2011, and of those that don’t vote, they tend to be poor and/or young.

This is where it’s tempting to become a bit cynical. Parties like Labour and Green seek to represent the interests of people who aren’t bothered enough to vote.

As an educated person earning more than the median income, it’s tempting to consider that perhaps I shouldn’t be concerned to supporting policies for people who aren’t bothered enough to support themselves.

There are a few points in response to this though:

  • Issues like climate change do affect me.
  • Arguably, homelessness and poor mental health affects our society as whole, through crime, etc.
  • I don’t own a house, and Labour’s Kiwibuild plan would benefit me a lot more than the National’s $10k extra homestart grant.

But let’s continue with this line of thought. Perhaps I should narrow my scope of empathy, and to hell with those less well off.

I suspect, that this is the calculation that many people have made – acknowledging that it must suck to be earning only $25/hour and supporting a family on that, or that home ownership would be near impossible on that income, but ‘The important thing is to provide a good life for me and my family – so long as my kids are ok, then it’s ok’.

I think that the home ownership thing where National got a lot of support. I suspect that many of those who are already on the property ladder, don’t want to see more affordable housing – what they want to see is continuing increasing prices, so that they can make bank on the house they’ve purchased in the recent years.

There’s two main problems I have with this kind of thinking:

  • I think this self-centered (I don’t use that term as an ad hominem, but as a literal descriptor of the philosophy) thinking is counter-productive when it comes to tackling global issues like global warming. This kind of thinking would have one saying ‘Global warming won’t be a problem, so long as I can purchase a piece of land in an area that wrecked by global warming, and purchase the means to protect it’. Possibly a viable option if you’re super rich, but not if you’re just upper middle class – which chances are, you are.
  • The idea of supporting a system that advantages the more well off relies on you being one of those people. In that sense, it seems like this race to be one of the privileged is a bit a scam. Of course, it’s easier to say this, myself not being a homeowner .

So that’s where I’m at. Ultimately I think post-truth politics is a dangerous game. It might suit you today, if your party wins, but there’s nothing stopping a party that you don’t like winning tomorrow using the same techniques.

I do think that both Labour and Green could do more to reform. It makes sense that seperate their bleeding heart welfare platform, from their climate change and housing problem platforms. That way – they might attract the votes of people who want an alterative to National, but who really don’t want to support to welfare dependency. But all of this, is a post for another time.

letters

I’m considering leaving New Zealand: my letter to Andrew Little, and its response.

I wrote Andrew Little (leader of the opposition in New Zealand, as well as Jacinda Ardern (deputy leader), Grant Robertson (spokesperson for Employment) and Clare Curran (spokesperson for ICT)  an email:

Hi Andrew, Jacinda, Grant, Clare.

I’m a 31 year old IT professional who’s been working in Wellington for four years since I graduated with my computer science degree.

I’m writing to tell you why I’m currently looking for work in Melbourne.

Firstly – there’s the standard reasons many New Zealanders leave New Zealand:

– I’m hopeful that I’ll earn more money in Melbourne.

– I’m yet to have an OE and I want to see the world.

There’s also the IT specific reasons – I enjoy the culture of Wellington – but a lot of the work here tends to be for government, which isn’t the best place to do IT. It seems that Melbourne (and cities like Berlin) have a more exciting, fast paced IT culture.

But also another reason I’m looking at moving. It’s really hard to find cannabis in New Zealand. 

 

I know this sounds absurd – but hear me out.

Firstly – be aware that it’s much harder to find cannabis now, than it was ten years ago. The Guardian even wrote about it. 

I think that this is probably the result of the police being good at their job, and career criminals finding it it more profitable to be involved with meth than cannabis, as well as the relative isolation and small population of New Zealand.

I think often politicians adopt the attitude that ‘Yes, cannabis is illegal, but it’s tolerated, we turn a blind eye to it, and its illegal status doesn’t really affect those otherwise law abiding citizens who smoke’. But this isn’t actually true. Let’s look at the options someone like myself has:

– Not use cannabis. (I’ll address this in a bit).

– Purchase cannabis on the blackmarket. This puts me in the awkward position of having to ask the people I know if they know where to find cannabis – and – in my experience, they don’t. I end up having to purchase some from gang controlled tinny houses – where it’s low quality and very expensive.

– Grow my own. ‘Grow your own’ appears to be the growing sentiment in the cannabis community. The problem with this is that it doesn’t suit everybody’s living situation. For example if you have a strict landlord, or you have flatmates, then you’re inviting trouble. I could rent a grannyflat for the purpose of having the privacy of growing on my own cannabis, but this would be around $200/week extra – or the cost of $10,000 a year.

Now you might say ‘if consuming cannabis is so much trouble, perhaps you’re better off not smoking it’. And you might be right. Where I’m currently at, I’m considering that smoking cannabis isn’t right for me – I tend to get more done when I’m not smoking.

However – I don’t need prohibition to make that decision for me. Even if I’m not smoking cannabis – I still find it frustrating not being able to make that decision for myself. Also, even if I’m not smoking regularly – I might want to smoke over the New Year period at a music festival – but the cannabis situation is so dire in New Zealand that I might not have that option. I’m better off attending a festival in Australia, if smoking weed is something I want to do at it.

So – I’m considering leaving New Zealand – for opportunities abroad, not just solely for the availability cannabis. But the cannabis issue feels the straw that breaks the camels back. It feels like politicians (except for the Greens) don’t really care about what’s important to me, or many of other New Zealanders, and that’s incredibly frustrating.  I get that Labour, quite rightfully feels like housing is a more important issue – but Labour can address more than one issue at a time – and I wish that they’d tackle this low hanging fruit already.

David Johnston

Here is Andrew Little’s response:

aaaa

Dear David Thanks for writing about the decriminalisation of cannabis. Labour’s key priorities are housing, health, jobs and education and that’s where our focus is.

I’m personally very uncomfortable about increasing access to cannabis, particularly to young people. The scientific and medical evidence I’ve seen says that most of the cannabis available in New Zealand has high THC content and for still developing brains, that poses health risks. Finding a formula for decriminalisation that means you could mitigate those health risks would be extraordinarily difficult. We will not make holding a referendum on cannabis a priority when in government.

We firmly support cannabis products being available for medicinal use, however, where its use is prescribed by a GP or specialist where a person has a terminal illness or chronic pain.

Thanks for writing

Yours sincerely

Andrew Little

Leader of the Oppostion

PDF

politics

The responses of New Zealand politicians to the recent NZ Drug Foundation cannabis survey are frustrating.

The survey commissioned by the NZ Drug Foundation, suggests that the majority of New Zealanders support some form of liberalisation of cannabis laws, though the majority still oppose allow growing for friends, or selling from stores.

poll

The response from the two major party leaders has been head-in-the-sand dogmatic.

Prime Minister John Key said: “My longstanding view, whether you like it or not has been that I think it sends the wrong message to youngsters.”

“I think there are potentially health implications from sustained use,”

 

Labour Leader Andrew Little’s response was similarly lukewarm – suggesting that it’s not a priority for Labour.

 

What’s frustrating is how dismissive the politicians are about the issue. It’s not like either hold strong opinions about the issue, like for example Labour did with asset sales, or the combined, though with some disent, enthusiasm both parties had legalising gay marriage.

 

Instead, because both parties are not deviating from the status quo, there’s no need to take a strong stance. Each party gives a luke warm dismissal of the subject, and there’s no need for a more robust response, because the opposition party is not challenging them on the issue.

 

It’s particularly frustrating that Labour, who see themselves as representing the common man are taking this stance. I wouldn’t suggest that Labour’s demographic* are any more likely to be cannabis smokers than Nationals, but I’m sure that Labour’s demographic are much more likely to be negatively affected by cannabis prohibition than National’s.

To me, refusal to budge on the cannabis issue is another symptom of Labour being out of touch with their voter base – not realising just how important the cannabis issue is to voters, or how dramatically it affects them. The impression I get about Labour’s attitude is that ‘the status of cannabis’s legality has little effect on the lives of people in low socio-economic groups. The real issues are child poverty, access to education, etc’.

Without suggesting that these other issues are not important, I think it’s important to recognise just what effect the illegality of cannabis has on people. One of the main concerns I have, is that causes otherwise law abiding citizens to have a distrust of police and ‘the system’. I think it’s likely that many families won’t report certain crimes, such as domestic violence, for fear of the being busted for the wafts of cannabis coming from the house.

Liberalisation of cannabis laws has been occurring around the world. In the US, according to this resource, four states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado) have some form of legalisation for recreational use, almost half the states have legal medical marijuana.

In Australia cannabis is legal nationwide for medical use. In ACT and Western Australia cannabis is decriminalised for personal use/possession, and in other states though still a criminal offence, policy determines a non-criminal penalty.

The legalisation of cannabis in Colorado is generally seen as a success – or at least, the doomsday scenarios have not materialised yet. This article comprehensively covers to impacts of cannabis legalisation in Colorado.

Perhaps this is really what’s going on with the cannabis issue in New Zealand, New Zealand politicians are waiting to see how liberalisation plays out in other countries, before enacting it here.

This is of course, very conservative, and flies in the face of New Zealand’s identity as  an independent pioneer of progressive rights -being the first country in the world to give women the vote for example.

To me, announcing a policy to legalise seems like an obvious political boon for the Labour party – all of a sudden drawing in the non-voting New Zealand public, who now have a reason to get out and vote.

But perhaps this is where I’m naïve. Perhaps the Labour party, being more informed and experienced that me, have calculated that they’ll lose more of the voting elderly, than they’ll gain of the usually non-voting young and uneducated.

Perhaps the best way to make the cannabis issue and election issue, is with a citizens initiated referendum, requiring signatures of 10% of the population.

There are been two such referendums in recent history -the awfully worded one organised by the religious right in opposition to the anti-smacking bill (“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”), and the another in opposition to the assets sales proposed by National.

With so many people directly having a vested interest in cannabis law reform (ie. users, growers, and family members of those), and overall sentiment supporting law reform, it seems that getting willing signatories would be trivial.

Or is there some truth to the ‘useless stoner’ stereotype, reflecting a lack of ability to come together as a cohesive political force?


*Note I’m careful not to reference voters here. I would argue that Labour especially represents a group of people beyond those who vote. With one third of the eligible voting population not voting, it seems likely that these people’s (the uneducated) interests are more likely represented by Labour than National.