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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Woop woop!! Social Security Act rewrite!

I am all a-jitter. Seriously, I am. I am having a cup of coffee to calm down. I may need a nap. The thing I have been waiting for has finally happened, and to be honest, I just don’t know how I feel about it. Well, it is a bloody doorstop (440 pages), so that ambivalence will on for a while yet. Yes indeed, the Social Security Act 1964 has finally undergone the first full draft of its rewrite. The Rewrite bill (OK, proper name: Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill)is now available here.

Actually, in all honesty I am shamefully late to post about this. I have been buried up to my neck in other writing and wilfully ignoring all sorts of things (like emails, and children), so it makes me blush to say this was released on 17 March. For crying out loud..I am WRITING  BOOK ON SOCIAL SECURITY LAW. You’d think I’d have caught up with this little earthquake a little sooner.

Cos make no mistake, here there be earthquakes and tigers. I don’t have time today to engage in a full analysis (you are very welcome). But legislative reform of social security in this country has often been about trumpeting much and delivering little; or alternatively trumpeting very little and delivering knockout blows. When I am teaching my welfare law classes I often have to point out a kind of now-you-see it, now-you-don’t magic trick that passes for legislative reform in this area, whereby new provisions are jammed into the old Act but closer inspection reveals there has just simply been a shuffling around of old provisions that might conflate existing tests, but really, the status quo continues to a large degree.

When the government crowed about its streamlining of 7 benefits down to 3, they neglect to mention that often the same tests for eligibility are simply picked up and plonked somewhere else in the Act. So while the DPB (sole parent) was repackaged as sole parent support, the same eligibility tests were applied. The DPB carer’s benefit was also renamed and shifted to the supported living payment. Same tests. Sickness benefit was picked up and dumped into jobseeker support, with the same eligibility tests. Now, obviously there were changes in the application of work-tests and harsher requirements for reapplications, and implementation of other provisions and policies that have made such benefits harder to get; but in many respects the law has trundled on as it always has, really. The only benefits really to disappear in recent years have been widows’ and women alone benefits (both replaced by jobseeker support) most other reform has involved shuffling, reshaping, rebranding, and tightening of obligation.

Which is what makes this rewrite kind of exciting, and freaking scary. The Social Security Act 1964 has become a hot mess. But those of us who work with it recognise some phrases in the legislation like we would recognise old family members; in many cases those phrases were written before most of us were born. There are many things I’ll be looking are a couple:

  1. what has happened to the level of administrative discretion in the Bill? Has it depleted? Is it roughly the same? Where are there any changes?
  2. I know the Emergency benefit is to be replaced with the exceptional circumstances benefit. How different is it? At first glance, not much, but I need a bit more time to cogitate.
  3. where are the bodies hidden? One of the problems of the current Act is the connections between different parts of the Act that the hapless reader may not know about. How well crafted is the roadmap of this Act?

OK, I can’t answer that all right now. But one benefit I have taught many times, the unsupported child’s benefit has, I’m told, been ‘gotten rid of’ along with the orphan’s benefit in this Bill: A quick look reveals that the new benefit ‘supported child’s benefit’ does actually streamline two benefits (orphan’s benefit and unsupported child’s benefit) that existed for pretty much the same reason: the child or children had no parents to look after them. In the old Unsupported Child’s benefit in s29 there is a requirement that there be a family breakdown in the child’s family which has meant that no parent is available to look after the child. Then a non-parent can be granted the payment for looking after the child. The practical implication of the ‘breakdown’ requirement was that children being looked after by way of the whāngai process (sometimes called informal adoptions) didn’t reach this threshold usually; there is not usually a family breakdown when children are looked after as whāngai; although the family member looking after the whāngai will be doing exactly the same thing as in other situations without whāngai. So NOW; the ‘breakdown’ requirement has been excised. Does this mean whāngai carers will now be eligible? Perhaps. There has to be no parent ‘willing and able’ to take care of the child. That requires consideration, but the deletion of the ‘breakdown’ requirement is, I think, a good thing.

But no mistake. that is a substantive change, and not merely cosmetic one. Time to identify the rest.

After my nap, maybe…









Good Friday, Narcissus and my social media experiment.


So here we are, it’s Good Friday. It also happens to be my 46th birthday, but I feel more melancholic than celebratory. Today, of all days, is an opportunity for me (and all the other millions of Christians) to reflect upon the crucifixion of Christ, and what that means in our lives; and we have just marked the close of Lent; the 40 day period of reflection and penitence. leading up to this Holy Week, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday with its celebration of the Resurrection. (And THAT’S the time for the chocolate eggs, yiya!!)

Many of us will have observed some small sacrifice in the past 6 weeks to mark and make a little bit more real this solemn period. We can interpret this “Lenten vow” as a promise made to deny ourselves something that we might suspect holds too much power over us in our daily lives; something that would actually cost us something to give up. When I think about it, that’s pretty counter-cultural. Denial of self is not popular. So..a couple of years ago I gave up sugar for my Lenten vow; last year I put myself through a rigorous period of daily reading and prayer simply because I’m pretty bad at spiritual self discipline. This year I gave up two things; red meat and my reliance on social media. The red meat I haven’t missed at all..not much of a sacrifice, then! What about the social media then? Ah..not so easy.

Why did I think this was a good “sacrifice” to make anyway? Overall Facebook, and to a lesser degree, Twitter, have improved my life, not stolen from it. Social media affords me a lot of pleasure, engagement and opportunity for reflection, and even tears. I keep in contact with family and old friends (almost all of whom I only rarely see in real life), I get exposed to article and opinions that actually help me to work out what I really think about the world and the people in it. Not infrequently, I find  out news through social media well before it appears in “The News”. I respond to personal messages on FB more quickly than on email and by phone.

Sure, most of us know there is no time-killer as effective as Facebook, and social media generally. (As if to underscore this point I have just sent 32 minutes Googling for the awesome cartoon I saw ages ago featuring the lone person on Facebook and the gargantuan gulf between that person and their hopes and dreams. I wish you could have seen it. Truly.) And then there is the bigotry and closed-mindedness even from people we love. And not to forget the insufferable smugness of those who claim moral and political high ground; the vapidity and frivolity of those seeking to shore themselves up by Facebook validation. Of course, it goes without saying that I myself don’t fit any of these categories. Not at all.

What a load of bollocks. Of course I do; I fit all of them. In fact my use of social media reflects back to me things about myself I would rather not acknowledge; moments I would rather keep secret. Those times when I have hovered over posts, waiting for likes, comments and shares. The times I have lovingly crafted seemingly casual put-downs of other people just to show my superiority. The times I have wrestled with someone I don’t know about something I know little about (and care less about) just to be RIGHT; or even worse; just to see my own post (thus hear the sound of my own voice). The moments I caught myself thinking in status updates.

None of these things are grave sins, and I am no different to other people I’m sure. But it’s instructive that people often refer to Facebook as ‘addictive’. Well, I’m not sure if it is the flow of information we develop addiction to. In fact I’m sure it’s not. The addiction might well be real, but it’s not to Facebook, or any other SM.

I realised I needed to make my SM use the subject of a Lenten vow because of one thing; I was putting myself at the centre of the world. Or perhaps to put it another way, I was becoming a kind of Narcissus, the beautiful young man of Greek myth who, catching sight of his own reflection in still waters, fell in love with his own image, believing it to be a nymph in the water watching him with love and desire. Every time he reached for the image it shimmered and broke apart,so he just sat and watched the image; enamoured. Ultimately he died; still rapt in the facsimile of himself and its false love.


By its nature social media gives us all the opportunity to present our ‘better selves’ to the world, and then to cultivate and groom that better self as if she actually existed.

This is not in itself a bad thing. Obviously any time we present ourselves to the world we edit what we show; when we walk out the door; on the bus, and in the group email at work. Self editing is necessary for good social intercourse. And for those of us who do want to blog or write or otherwise put our opinions and thoughts in the public sphere have to put ourselves at ease in putting our public self ‘out there’ or else not bother. We have to believe someone else is interested in what we have to say; and that what we have to say is worth saying. There is a fine line between having that necessary degree of confidence, and slipping into the kind of dangerous self-regard I was starting to see in myself. And of course, this shiny coin of attention is double sided. One side is the adulation we crave from others, the other is the hatred we might also attract.

The irony of writing a post bemoaning self-addiction by writing mainly about myself is not lost on me. Regardless, 6 weeks without seeking likes, and shares and comments have done me good. I hope I can return to social media with care. Perhaps the proof of that particular pudding will be in how often I find myself hovering on my stats page for this blog, seeking evidence of love and approval from the universe.

Mā te Atua koutou e manaaki i Te Aranga nei.




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