How happy-clappy statisticians figure out if we are privileged

The Point of Order Trough Monitor has not been calibrated to detect all extravagant spending of taxpayers’ money.  But others in the blogosphere can be relied on to pick up at least some of the squandering that happens beyond the monitor’s purview.

For example, Kiwiblog’s doughty David Farrar has alerted his readers to some nonsense at Statistics New Zealand, based on a press release from Nationals Amy Adams.

“Officials at a  technical workshop today spent an hour having participants singing, hand-clapping and playing ‘Check Your Privilege bingo’.

“Yet at the same time New Zealand continues to wait for the 2018 Census results after a shambolic process that resulted in significant data gaps and we’re yet to see anything on the last two years of child poverty statistics.

“According to the Government agency’s bingo card, it seems if you are a ‘native English speaker, Cis, white, thin, have no speech impediment, heterosexual, able-bodied, standard accent, have no criminal record, human, tall, mentally healthy, support a mainstream political party, adult, born in your country of residence, wealthy, employed or just not a red-head’, then you are privileged.

Farrar expostulates:  “My God, this is so PC.”

But then he demonstrates that he is a multiple victim of privilege.

I’m not thin, I have a speech impediment, I have a hearing disability, I’m short and I’ve had mental health issues. So I’m a victim five-fold over.

So I’m coming for all you oppressors out there.

Feel free to count up your own score of oppression in the comments and see if we can work out who is the most oppressed.

Adams is much more earnest, emphasising the nature of Stats NZ’s responsibilities in developing the indicators for the Living Standards Framework that will underpin future policies.

This, she observes, is a serious and important task – the indicators are meant to set an objective and impartial framework to assess Government policy.

She questions what the bingo game implies about the number-crunchers’ perspective:

“This narrow view of life from the agency tasked with delivering the indicators that are meant to set an objective and impartial framework to assess Government policy is troubling and reflects poorly on the directives of Government Ministers.

“Combined with a very limited public consultation process, and news that the current year’s data isn’t able to be used because of methodology issues, it risks undermining the credibility of the indicators which underpin the Treasury’s newly announced Living Standards Framework.

“It’s another example of the Government misdirecting the public sector on vital tasks and shows the reality of the Government’s social engineering ambitions.”

At the NZ Centre for Political Research, former ACT MP Muriel Newman would have been unaware of the bingo game when she wrote about privilege.

Her focus was on Maori privilege.

Reports are now emerging from around the country of iwi representatives turning up at confidential local authority meetings and demanding a seat at council tables.

They claim their authority comes from the Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements in the Resource Legislation Amendment Act that was passed by the National Government in 2017.

At the time we warned these iwi consultation provisions would have serious consequences for local democracy by enabling unelected and unaccountable tribal representatives – pursuing their own self-interested agendas – to sit alongside elected councillors and officials in a co-governance role.  

Let’s note that the Minister responsible for this misguided law change was Nelson MP Nick Smith. He designed the agreements with iwi leaders “then manipulated Parliament’s rules so they could be imposed on to the country without notice and in such a way as to avoid the submission process and any form of public consultation whatsoever”.

Another example of Maori privilege denounced by Newman comes from changes to the Charities Act – back in Helen Clark’s days as PM – to allow some of the biggest businesses in the country to register as charities and avoid paying tax.

Until that time, any group wanting to register as a charity not only needed a legitimate charitable purpose – such as the relief of poverty or the advancement of education – but they also had to meet a public benefit test to ensure that tax-free profits flow into the wider community, and not into the pockets of private individuals and their relatives.

Since Maori tribal organisations are kin-based, they failed the public benefit test and could not gain charitable status. To sidestep this hurdle, Labour introduced an exemption from the blood tie disqualification for anyone involved in the administration and management of a marae.

As a result, mega rich corporations like Ngai Tahu have been able to register as tax-free charities.

The consequences of Labour’s law change are discussed here by Dr Michael Gousmett, an Adjunct Fellow at the School of Humanities & Creative Arts at the University of Canterbury, researcher and historian.

But we wouldn’t put much money on the happy-clappy  statisticians changing the structure of their bingo game to bring this sort of privilege into considerations and we shouldn’t count on Michael Cullen’s tax review doing much about it either.

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