Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Spirit of mateship falls short after quake

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Government and individual Kiwis alike have opened their wallets in support of the people of Christchurch.

We've patted ourselves on the back, proud that in adversity Jafas and Cantabrians, and everyone in between, are all mates.

But before we start getting too smug about the way we help one another out in times of need, the reality is this mateship is selective.

Last year, when multi-millionaire film producer Sir Peter Jackson had a spot of trouble with some uppity actors seeking a living wage, the Government rushed to his aid with an extra $20 million tax break for his United States movie studio partners.

This was in addition to the estimated $65 million tax break already available for his new Hobbit movies.

Then there were the 38,000 or so depositors and bondholders in collapsed finance company South Canterbury Finance.

The Government rushed in and handed out $1.75 billion to compensate investors who'd let greed get the better of them.

It's as though when middle-of-the-road sort of people lose their shirts in unwise money-making schemes they get a second chance. But not everyone is so lucky.

A couple of weeks back practically all the seats at the bus stop alongside the TVNZ headquarters in Auckland's Victoria St were suddenly ripped out. In the evening rush hour this is a busy stop, with up to 20 people waiting. The seats at the eastern end are also the base for the alkies who dash in and out of the traffic cleaning windscreens.

It's a huge cave of a stop, built under the overhanging TVNZ headquarters.

There's room for both groups of users but Auckland Council, in its wisdom, decided there was a problem and the solution was to inconvenience everyone by ripping out the seats. Instead of confronting the problem of homeless alcoholics, the council decided to just move them on.

After my complaint about the missing seats, Auckland Transport blamed Auckland Council for acting out of turn and replaced about a third of the original seating.

This little incident pales into insignificance alongside the ongoing battle the Government - and I'm including the previous Labour government as well - has waged against paying a living wage to the carers of our disabled mates.

More than 20 years ago, the doors of the Victorian-era psychiatric and psychopaedic hospitals were flung open and so began the modern era of caring for people with physical and mental disabilities. It was to be the start of a great leap forward in terms of humane care.

But it was done on the cheap, dependent on, among other things, the free labour of ageing parents and thousands of low-paid support workers.

In recent days, two decisions have highlighted the state's continuing obduracy when it comes to righting this wrong.

On March 11, Justice Raynor Asher gave leave for the Crown to appeal December's High Court ruling that parents of severely disabled adult children were entitled to be paid if they took on the caring function of their children.

This saga dates back to 2001, when a group of parents first complained to the Human Rights Commission. The issue was finally argued before the Human Rights Review Tribunal in 2008. The parents won, and the Crown appealed.

The Ministry of Health argued such a change could cost up to $593 million a year. The Office of Human Rights Proceedings estimated costs would be only in the $32 million to $64 million range because few family members would be willing or able to provide the high level of care required.

The Crown's appeal was rejected in the High Court and it immediately sought leave to go to the Court of Appeal, which Justice Asher has granted but on limited issues related to matters of law.

Meanwhile, last week, the IHC lodged an application with the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against a Court of Appeal decision last month ruling that carers who sleep over in state-funded community homes are entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage for the time they're on duty.

The workers are caring for men and women who require 24-hour support because of their disabilities or because of mental health issues. The houses involved are operated by the IHC and other agencies, and are bulk-funded by the Government. Instead of the minimum wage - $13 an hour from April 1 - or more, the IHC workers get paid $34 for a nine-hour sleepover shift.

The carers went to the Employment Court pointing out that firefighters, ambulance officers and resident doctors all get paid their full rate while sleeping "on call" overnight.

The Employment Court agreed, and last month the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal from the Government.

The Government argues it can't afford the extra $500 million bill. Unions argue the bill will be half that, most of that in back pay, and the ongoing cost would be $50 million a year. Whatever; both they and the parents are entitled to it.

During the post-earthquake love-in we were all said to be Cantabrians, no matter where in New Zealand we came from. It's time the Government stops its legal stalling and accepts we're all disabled as well.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

Read more by Brian Rudman

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 23 Mar 2017 12:01:12 Processing Time: 858ms