Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Day three of fifteen

Our general Elections are to be “officially” held on Saturday, 17th of October. Vote counting will commence after polling places close at 7:00 PM that day. However it has now become standard for voters to be able to vote early. We have been able to cast our vote since Saturday, hence, today being Monday, is day three of the the 15 day period during which we can cast our vote(s).

Although we have nowhere near the voter turnout that Australia has (voting is compulsory there), participation rates of 75% or greater are the norm here. And this year with greater promotion and availability of early voting, it’s likely that the turnout this year will be up on the 2017 elections.

One anomaly that early voting has revealed is the regulation that bans political advertising of any sort on polling day. This necessitates the removing of billboards, party banners etc before midnight on the day before polling day. Considering that voting now extends over two weeks and it’s expected that around 60% of all votes will be cast before polling day, either all political advertising needs to be banned for the entire time the polls are open or the advertising ban needs to be done away with entirely. But banning advertising on only the final day of polling is ludicrous in my view.

On a lighter note, here’s a (highly selective) comparison of last week’s leaders’ debates in NZ and the US. Apart from the obvious gender differences, our political leaders think more highly of each other than do American leaders.

A contrast of styles


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The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?

Keeping the coronavirus out of Aotearoa New Zealand is fraught with difficulties, the most significant perhaps being that it requires the cooperation of multiple agencies. I’m glad I’m not the only person who regards the setting up of a Border Security Force as a potential source of abuse and tyranny.

Whilst the current multi-agency arrangement involving Customs, Health, Police and Military has revealed many flaws from managing security to testing for COVID-19, these are being acknowledged and corrected as they come to light. This is uncharted territory, and if anyone believes that a plan of action can be brought from the drawing board to fruition in record time taking into account every possibility with every permutation already considered and planned for, then they are living in cloud cuckooland.

Would a Border Security Force result in appalling forms of abuse as can be witnessed in countries such as Australia and the United States? I would hope not, but I’d prefer that the opportunity does not arise. Better to resource the existing agencies adequately and create a management task force dedicated to coordinating the agencies and quickly respond to issues as they arise.

If there are legal barriers to setting up such a task force in any future national emergency, then sure, bring in legislation that will allow it ensuring that transparent oversight is included. But having a permanent independent force with little in the way of transparent oversight on the American or Australian model with all their reported abuses? No thanks!

With a general election coming up in less than two months, several political parties are promoting a Border Security Force, but this does not appear to be on the radar for the governing Labour party at the moment. However, they are just as subject to public pressure as other parties, so I want to put my position now in the hope that I’m just one of many voices opposing the formation of a Border Security force.

On this matter I can do no better than reblog Robert Glennie’s post on Will New Zealand Be Right?

Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New […]

The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?


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“Necessary, reasonable and proportionate”, but unlawful

That’s the opinion of the High Court of New Zealand after a legal challenge to the COVID-19 lockdown. The challenge was only partially successful, in that the court found that all but one of the orders made in regard to the lockdown were lawful. What was not lawful was the “stay at home” order.

The Court concluded that:

By various public and widely publicised announcements made between 26 March and 3 April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, members of the executive branch of the New Zealand Government stated or implied that, for that nine-day period, subject to limited exceptions, all New Zealanders were required by law to stay at home and in their “bubbles” when there was no such requirement. Those announcements had the effect of limiting certain rights and freedoms affirmed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 including, in particular, the rights to freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and association. While there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis at that time, the requirement was not prescribed by law and was therefore contrary to s 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

It’s important to note that the court recognised that while the government did have the authority to make such regulations, it did not in fact make them. That was corrected in regulations made nine days into the lockdown that did make the “stay at home” order lawful

For those interested in in the details of the court’s decision, a High Court media release can be found here (PDF), and the full judgment can be found here (PDF).


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To trace or not to trace, that is the question.

Aotearoa New Zealand has, for now, eliminated the virus causing COVID-19. It’s eliminated as there is no community infection, and the occasional one that appears is related to a known cluster, where the person involved is already in isolation, or the person has recently returned from overseas and is in a supervised quarantine facility.

One aspect of controlling the virus has been the success of contact tracing, which has improved considerably since the beginning of the outbreak, especially after the process became centralised instead of being the responsibility of each of the nation’s 20 health authorities.

In this this nation, contact tracing has relied on a call centre “interviewing” persons who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 and then contacting known or likely contacts. Unlike in Australia, Singapore and Korea, the process has not been automated through the use of technology such as smartphone apps.

There are a number of reasons why we haven’t adopted technology to assist in tracing contacts. The most obvious is privacy. Many of those offering a smartphone solution rely on Bluetooth and the transmission of contact information to a centralised database, both of which pose security and privacy issues. Bluetooth is inherently insecure, and I never have Bluetooth enabled unless I wish to transfer data specifically with another Bluetooth device belonging to someone I know and trust.

As Bluetooth cannot discriminate on the type of proximity to another device (on opposite sides of the same room or right next to each other but in adjascent and isolated rooms for example), most of the “contacts” are irrelevant or red herrings. Bluetooth also requires a high level of trust between devices, and this is not something I’m prepared to give up.

Perhaps automating a contact history might be useful in nations where community transmission of the virus is widespread, provided there is a means of separating the wheat from the chaff that will invariably result by such a collection system. But in the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, where their is no community transmission, any advantage is outweighed by security and privacy concerns.

However, today is the official release of a government approved app that also meets my approval. I downloaded it last night and am comfortable about using it.

The app makes use of QR codes that business establishments can set up at entry points, which you can voluntarily scan as you enter the premises. The data is stored within the phone only and is not transmitted in any form, but can be voluntarily transmitted to contact tracers on request. Data older than 31 days is automatically deleted.

In effect, the app is a personal “places I visited diary”, and as such I am comfortable using it. Unlike almost every other app this one does not need or request access to any smartphone service apart from the camera (to capture the QR code). What it lacks is any means of entering any locations that don’t have a QR code available to scan, and this is a serious weakness in my view.

I had been using my phone’s GPS and the Google Map Timeline to record my movements in case they were needed to trace my movements. But it is very unreliable both in recording where I’ve been and at what time. For example this morning I left home just before 11 AM and visited two locations. I was back home by 11:30.

The Google Maps timeline has no record of me being at the first location, but records me leaving home at 12:06 AM (10 hours and 51 minutes before I actually did), arriving at the second location at exactly the same instant. However, it did accurately record the time I left there, and the time it took to travel home, although it recorded that I arrived at an address three sections (properties/lots) away from home.

Yesterday, it recorded that I visited two places several blocks away, even though I never left home. The last time I visited the supermarket, it recorded the time I spent there as travel time between two other locations I passed by but didn’t stop at. Go figure.

While the typical Kiwi probably trusts our authorities more that the typical American trusts theirs, it’s not unconditional, and I believe the official NZ COVID Tracer does not require much in the way of trust while still being a useful tool in contact tracing if the need arises. I think on that basis, it’s uptake will be greater than if it relied on connectivity and/or external data storage.

One issue is finding the App on Google Play. You can’t. I don’t know what the situation is with Apple’s App Store. Searching for COVID tracers, results in only the official WHO apps being located, even if “NZ” or “New Zealand” is included in the search terms.

It seems that Google is filtering out every tracing app apart from the WHO Apps, probably due to there being a high probability of them being intentionally or unintentionally being open to abuse. Even typing in the app name “NZ COVID Tracer” does not locate it. The only way I could find it was to go to the Ministry of Health NZ COVID Tracer app Webpage and click on the link provided there. Thank you Google (not!)


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Two significant events today

We’re out of lockdown, and the 2020 budget was released

1. COVID-19 Alert Level 2

The lockdown has ended! No more isolation bubbles!

Most businesses are now open, although not necessarily back to “normal”. All businesses must operate under strict health and safety measures such as social distancing. One of the minor inconveniences is the necessity of businesses to keep some form of register (typically a record of name and contact phone number) to make tracing of possible infectious contacts easier if required.

Unlike in Australia, the government has not made any decision on employing an automated means of tracking movements and contacts. The issues of (a) privacy and (b) compliance have yet to be resolved to a satisfactory level. If community transmission remains extremely low or non-existent, then really there’ll be no need for any type of electronic tracking. There’s been no new cases for three consecutive days.

The hospitality sector has probably been faced with some of the most challenging requirements due to the requirements that patron must be seated, no buffet service, and only one waiter per table.

Bars can not open for another week, as there’s a concern that the lowering of inhibitions that often accompany alcohol consumption may lead to a spike in transmission of the disease. Some bars will no doubt make changes to what they offer so that food and not alcohol as the “principal purpose” of their business, thereby allowing them to open earlier.

Of course there are some aspects of the remaining restrictions that are perceived by a minority as being unnecessary and in some cases part of a long-planned scheme to create a “new world order”. One restriction in particular has bee singled out by the Christian fringe as being a plot by the government to destroy religion in general and Christianity in particular.

One of the restrictions is that no event can have more than 100 participants. However some events are more restricted. For example, weddings and funerals were to be restricted to 10 persons, but the funeral directors association provided evidence to the authorities that they could manage saftey requirements for larger groups. Consequently, funerals can now de up to 50 people, while weddings are still limited to 10.

Religious services are also limited to a maximum of ten people, and extreme Christians claim that as sports events and other venues can accomodate 100 people, the limit of 10 for religious services is a deliberate and targetted attack on religious freedom.

More reasonable religious leaders acknowledge that in many ways, religious events more closely resemble social gatherings where social distancing will be difficult to manage. Social gatherings are limited to a maximum of ten people due to the increased chance of community transmission at such events.

2. The Budget

The other significant event was the release of the government’s budget for the 2020/2021 financial year. It’s involves spending at an unprecedented level, Whereas the Labour government typically runs with a surplus (7 billion last year) it will occur a 20 billion dollar deficit over the next year. The government has allocted 50 billion dollars specifically for pandemic recovery – 30 billion has been allocated and a further 20 billion for future demands due to

While 50 billion dollars may not seem much compared to the recent 2 trillion package in the US, it can be put into better perspective by measuring the deficit against our GDP. The deficit will average 9.3% of the GDP over the next two years. It’s not expected that debt will return to pre-covid levels until 2028.

A significant outcome of the current pandemic is that it will necessitate a major restructure of our economy, not because of the shutdown but because of the changes occurring in world economy. I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball that can predict when or even if tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels. It’s an industry that employs one in eight Kiwis, and in the short term, it’s going to need intensive care if it is going to survive at all, and if it does survive, it’s only going to be a shadow of its former self catering for the domestic market for years to come.

The government predicts unemployment to reach 10% by the end of June and not return to pre-COVID-19 days until 2022.

Some perspectives of the NZ budget:

From NZ:
Newshub: Budget 2020: Where the Government is spending big to rebuild New Zealand after coronavirus
New Zealand Herald: Budget 2020: Government’s Covid 19 wage subsidy scheme extended by 8 weeks, now up to $14b
Scoop: Welfare Or Warfare? Military Spending In Budget 2020

From overseas:
The Guardian on MSN: New Zealand budget: Robertson lays out $50bn plan to return jobs to pre-Covid-19 levels
The New Your Times: New Zealand Unveils Record Spending to Stop Massive Job Losses


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Here’s to Level Three

Kia ora!

Last night, the wife and I raised our glasses (Giesen NZ Riesling 2017 if you’re curious) to celebrate the news that the nation will move from COVID-19 Alert Level Four to Level Three as from 11:59 PM on Monday, 28 April.

In practical terms, going to Level Three will make little difference to our personal lives. Our isolation bubble will not expand – it will remain at just two people. All retail facilities in town will remain closed apart from those that have been allowed to remain open during Level Four – supermarkets, pharmacies and service stations.

However it will mean that we will be able to drive the few kilometres to Kitchener Park and take the boardwalk through the forest. One difference here will be that when the wife needs to sit to ease her back pain, she’ll use a collapsible 3-legged stool instead of the fifteen or so park benches scattered along the walk – all in the interests of preventing contamination of our bubble.

Perhaps the most significant easing that Level Three provides for us will be that many more items will be able to be purchased online for delivery to our home. Currently deliveries can be made only for products that are considered essential.

We have also been given a start date for our home renovations – 1st of June, provided the Alert Level has dropped below Level Three. As almost all work will be inside, there’s no way we can keep our bubble protected from the various trades people who will be working on the project.

Unlike in the US, where we have seen news clips of shoulder to shoulder demonstrators calling for the end of COVID-19 restrictions, here we’re seeing concern that the relaxations are happening too soon. Under Level Three, child care facilities can re-open as can and schools for students from Year 1 through to Year 10. The emphasis is on can. Government advice is to keep kids home if at all possible. But there is considerable apprehension from staff mostly around managing social distancing for children – something that will be almost impossible to control.

Our Prime Minister has an approval rating of around 90% for her handling of the pandemic, even though our nationwide lockdown has been one of the most restrictive of any nation – certainly among those with a Western style democracy.

This is no more readily apparent than the public reaction to a comment on facebook by Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party and the Parliamentary Opposition, and currently chair of the Epidemic Response Committee, where he was critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Most see it as political grandstanding, including many National Party supporters. At time of writing, the post has attracted over 28,000 comments – mostly negative.

News headlines are suggesting there’s leadership coup being planned within the National Party, but of course they’re being denied. National Party support has plummeted to around 30% – way down on its pre-pandemic rating of low to mid forty percent, and doesn’t bode well for the party in the upcoming general elections currently set for September. I can understand why Jacinda Ardern is reluctant to push the election date back to November – a call being made by both the opposition and her coalition partner.

For anyone interested in NZ style politics, have a look at live streaming and recordings of previous sessions of the Epidemic Response Committee. This committee oversees government actions while Parliament is in recess during the lockdown.

Before the current crisis, the National Party had a comfortable lead over the Labour Party – often by as much as ten percentage points even though support for its leader trailed far behind that of the leader of the Labour Party – 5% – 10% for Simon Bridges compared to 40% to 50% for Jacinda Ardern.

We now see National have the lowest support for more than a decade. In Aotearoa New Zealand, our MMP electoral system means that parliamentary representation almost exactly reflects party support at time of a general election. Although in opposition, National has has been the largest party in Parliament. If an election were to held today Labour would be able to form a government with support of the Green Party.

I can’t see National and Greens being able to form a coalition in the foreseeable future, being at opposite ends of not very wide NZ political spectrum. Think of Biden as National, Sanders as Labour and Greens as Andrew Yang. There’s no popular support here for an equivalent of the Republican GOP.

kia haumaru, kia kaha
Keep safe, be strong.


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Health Minister David Clark in disgrace

We’re all human – even members of Cabinet. And oftentimes the biggest mistakes seem so innocuous at the time. Take for example the actions of Health Minister David Clark and his family. During the first weekend of the COVID-19 lockdown, they took a trip to the beach. While going to the beach isn’t forbidden, driving 20 Km (12 miles) to do so is considered “non-essential” and therefore prohibited.

Parliament is in recess during the current crisis, and the oversight of government is currently being undertaken by a parliamentary Select Committee – the Epidemic Response Committee. This has very wide ranging powers, has a majority of opposition MPs (Members of Parliament) and is chaired by the leader of the opposition Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party.

The Epidemic Response Committee had requested the Health Minister provide a summary of his movements since the the nation went into the COVIC-19 level 4 lockdown after it was discovered that he had travelled 2 Km (1.2 miles) to a mountain cycling track.

While 2Km is stretching the definition of local, it was the risk involved in cycling on a mountain track that was the issue. We’re being discouraged from undertaking risky activities because should we get injured, lost or otherwise needing rescue, we’re putting responders and their families at risk as they would need to break their isolation bubble.

David Clark Clark had provided the Prime Minister with a complete picture of his activity outside his home during alert level 4, as part of his preparation for the Epidemic Response Committee. Jacinda was not amused. If it wasn’t for the fact that sacking him would be too disruptive, he would have been fired. From the Prime Minister:

Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses. But right now, my priority is our collective fight against Covid-19. We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response. For that reason, and that reason alone, Dr Clark will maintain his role.

But he does need to pay a price. He broke the rules. While he maintains his Health portfolio, I am stripping him of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoting him to the bottom of our Cabinet rankings. I expect better, and so does New Zealand.

It’s activities such as those undertaken by David Clark, that put in jeopardy a relatively short period of being at a nationwide COVID-19 Alert Level 4. We are all expected to forego our walk in the park. It’s good to know it’s also expected of those at the top.


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Corruption and the abuse of (media) power

It seems that corruption and abuse of and by the media is on the rise. No doubt, with Trump as a role model, politicians are fighting back ensuring that the public are not deceived by fake news and appalling journalism.

No continent seems to be free of this scourge, and that includes the continent of Zealandia. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have seen two appalling examples of the disclosure of unsavoury information about leading politicians and yet those involved have not fought back with fake news arguments or any criticism of the media at all! This is totally unacceptable and as electors we should expect those we put into office to use whatever means they have available to them to fight any “news” or source that might be harmful to their position.

First, there was Clare Curran who was stood down from her Open Government and Government Digital Services portfolios for failing to disclose a meeting with entrepreneur Derek Handley back in February. Unlike Trump’s staff who learn of happenings via twitter, Curran’s staff were kept totally in the dark. If she had tweeted, then at least her staff would have not been completely ignorant of the late night rendezvous. But no, she didn’t mention the meeting at all. In fact she failed to enter it into her official diary.

This is nothing short of incompetence. If the meeting was supposed to be secret, why disclose the event in answer to a parliamentary question many months later? Her excuse of “I forgot” is totally unacceptable, and as this is the second time that it’s been revealled that she has attended an unrecorded meeting, it’s clear that she is incapable of running her office.

If she had a private meeting, then she should make sure not to mention the event months later. And if she did simply forget, as she claims, she should have laid the blame squarely on the media for reporting the discrepancy, with accusations of fake news and dishonest reporting. At least that way she would not have had to admit responsibility. That’s where she she failed and why she was fired: for accepting responsibility. Can you imagine Trump doing that?

Now on to the second event. The Minister of Customs Meka Whaitiri has been stood down over a “staffing matter”. Once again, incompetence. Why hasn’t the Minister come out and publicly criticised the ministerial staff member involved. Surely her position allows her to find or create information that would discredit anything this staffer might say, but it seems she has made no attempt to do so. Nor has she attempted to silence the staff member or colleagues by buying the silence of those involved. Surely the status of a Minister takes priority over the reputation of a staff member?

And now there’s rumours that the “staffing matter” involves an assault by Whaitiri on the staff member. Trump has claimed that he could actually kill someone in broad daylight and get away with it. And here we have a New Zealand Minister who is facing potential police involvement in what amounts to little more than a minor scuffle between two individuals. That fact that the Minister is likely to be considered the offender and not the victim speaks volumes about how ineffective she is, and inappropriate she is for the role. Can you ever imagine Trump being in that position?

I blame Prime Mister,Jacinda Ardern. The problem is she has taken a principled stand whereas truly capable leaders such as Trump would take a pragmatic stand to protect their power base. After all, politics isn’t about doing what is right, but about about what can be done.


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“Trump might do some good for democracy”

Now before you conclude that I have lost my marbles, read on.

Throughout the world, voter turnout at national elections have been declining, mainly due to apathy of younger voters. This is also true in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our most recent General Elections were held in 2014 and the voter turnout was at an all time low of 77%. Voter turnout for those under 30 years of age was 62%, while 88% of people my age voted.

The main reason put forward for poor voter participation by younger people is that they feel that they can make very little difference to the results. While there is some degree of truth in that, especially in electoral systems where “winner takes all” such as with FFP (First Past the Post), the same can’t be said of systems with proportional representation such that used here in Parliamentary elections. If a party gains 5% of the votes, it gets 5% of the seats in the Parliament. in other words, every vote counts.

We next go to the polls on Saturday the 23rd of September 2017 to elect our 52nd Parliament. The head of the Electoral Commission (the body that oversees national and local elections in NZ) believes we may see a reversal in the decline in voter participation this year. She gave two reasons: Brexit and Trump.

The results of both Brexit and the US presidential elections were due largely to voter apathy. In both cases, younger voters were strongly against the final result, and had younger voters participated in numbers approaching the national average, the results would have been different. It seems that finally there is evidence that NOT taking part in the democratic process can have serious consequences.

The good news here is that the younger generations are talking about how and why results such as Brexit and Trump as president could possibly occur. Both results seem contrary to common sense. I do hope that the head of the Electoral Commission is correct and that such discussion will lead to greater voter participation, especially among the young.

So thank you Donald, you are the reason the next generation of Kiwis are beginning to take a greater interest in the democratic process. They don’t want to see our leaders behaving as you do.


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Equality on the decline?

In 20o5 Aotearoa New Zealand became the first nation in the world where all top positions were held by women: the Monarch, the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Chief Justice.

There have been other firsts that at first glance give the appearance that women are more equal here than elsewhere, including being the first country to grant women the vote. The 1976 relationship act and its amendments grant equal rights to both members of a relationship irrespective of marital status or gender is another.

Just as America prides itself on its liberty and freedom, NZ has always prided itself on its egalitarianism – both between the sexes and the population as a whole. In fact, back in the 1940s a visiting academic suggested we should build a statue proclaiming our egalitarianism in the much the same manner as the Statue of Liberty proclaims freedom in America.

The myth persists in both countries. Sadly America has slid well down the freedom and liberty ladder, even though over half the population believe it is the most free nation on earth. Our claim to egalitarianism has take a huge tumble since the mid 1980s. Fewer Kiwis believe in our own myth. Approximately 75% of the population no longer believe that everyone in NZ receives a “fair go”. But that leaves a quarter of the population still believing that we are a nation of equals.

Why the sudden change in equality since the 1980s? In what was a sort of political revolution, the leftist Labour party adopted radical economic reforms much like “Thatchernomics” in the UK and “Reaganomics” in the US, only more extreme. Known here as “Rogernomics” (named after the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas) it saw the halving of the top tax rate, the slashing of social welfare, the privatisation of much of the public sector (sold mostly to foreign investors) and a reduction in the bargaining power of workers. Tariffs and other trade protections were eliminated resulting in a massive transfer of unskilled jobs overseas.

The initial result was high levels of unemployment and the social conditions that typically accompany it. Today unemployment is more “acceptable” but we now have a class of “working poor” that struggle and frequently fail at keeping their family out of poverty. Today, about one in five children live in households where the income is below the poverty line. I believe this is totally unacceptable.

New Zealand has the unenviable reputation of now being the nation with the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD. While we are far from reaching the level of disparity seen in the USA and some developing nations, we approaching the likes of the UK. While it’s true that displays of wealth are still frowned upon, there is a growing acceptance that poverty is a “natural” part of the social fabric. I don’t.

One outcome of the economic reforms has been an increase in the disparity of income between men and women. Prior to the reforms, and into the first few years afterwards, the difference in income between men and women had been declining and was well on the way to being eliminated. There were dreams of Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to achieve true pay equality. This has been shattered over the last two decades as the gender pay gap has increased markedly to around 12% (based on hourly income, more so if based on actual income).

One of the measures of freedom I take seriously is socio-economic mobility. This is the ability for someone to move out of the socio-economic group of their parents. In America, the “Land of Opportunity” around half or slightly less move to a different group. By contrast, in NZ it was around 75%. This has declined and is now hovering around the 70% mark.

It has barely been a generation since the economic reforms, and as they become a permanent feature of of our society, I suspect that socio-economic mobility will decline further. That, along with the growing disparity between rich and poor is a recipe for social disharmony – perhaps on the levels we see in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere. The mind shudders.

Equally unnerving is that it brings the prospect of us growing our own Trump –  someone gaining enormous wealth through a largely unregulated economy, and at the cost of a low skilled workforce, and then gaining political influence by telling those worse affected by those very practices that he will make things right for them. Yeah, right.