Written By: - Date published: 11:00 am, June 30th, 2014 - 135 comments
Categories: benefits, bill english, business, capitalism, child welfare, class war, democratic participation, election 2014, families, john key, poverty, privatisation, slippery - Tags:
vto has been drawing attention to some comments made by Bill English, about how a third term Key government would majorly reform the government’s budgeting and spending.
English’s comments on this does raise some serious concerns that deserve to be examined in depth. The way English framed the planned reforms makes it sound like the ability to aggregate data will result in a Big brother type governance.
He also refers to a competitive approach that sounds a little like the further outsourcing of public sector provisions to non-government entities.
On 15th June of this year, Rod Oram reported on some of the results of the Key government so far, and on the new goals being flagged for a third term:
… the government has improved fiscal discipline, initiated its Better Public Services programme, and set itself 10 big challenges such as reducing long-term welfare dependency and boosting skills and employment.
If National wins the election, English says his next budget will be the most radical restructuring of government spending in 50 years as he seeks to take an investment-led, performance-driven approach to programmes.
This is fleshed out a bit more by a couple of posts by Bernard Hickey on Hive News. On 9 June 2014, Hickey posted about,
… Bill English ‘s comments about how a third-term National Government might use big data to change the way it organises itself and reports its spending in future Budgets. I attended a Data Futures Forum at Telecom’s conference centre in Auckland on Friday.
English spoke at length about how Treasury’s new Data Analytics Unit is beginning to pull together the Government’s disparate sets of data to better measure the performance of spending in hitting the Government’s targets. He emphasised the Government’s investment-led approach and flagged the biggest changes in 50 years in the way Budgets were written if the Government was re-elected. See the full report below.
In the wake of Snowden’s revelations, this resort to the power of the government’s capabilities to use ‘Big Data’, is worrying.
Hickey explains further in another post of the previous day (8 June 2014):
“We’re now starting to adopt an investment approach. Where you would say we invest now for income later, we’re saying we invest now for cost reduction later, such as in our sole parents under 20,” English said, referring to how the Government had reduced the number of single mothers under the age of 20 by 2,600 or 40% over the last three years, thus reducing future liabilities by hundreds of millions of dollars.
English referred to the development by Statistics NZ of its Integrated Data Infrastructure, which allowed various Government departments to link the names and birth-dates of the recipients of health, welfare and education spending over 35 years to better track and understand the performance of that spending.
The Government had opened up these data sets to the research community to better understand these trends, “so they can chew on our mountains of data.”
“We’ve got a data analytics unit at the Treasury and in the next Budget round, should we have the privilege of being able to be the Government, we’ll probably reshape how we do the Budget – the most significant change in about 50 years – because we want to go direct to the customer,” English said.
I’m not sure how the government has used Big Data, and budget allocations to “reduce the numbers of single mothers under 20 years old. It does sound a little like eugenics, and (the dread of the right) “social engineering”. Is this a reference to the social obligations aspects of Bennett’s reforms that have been particularly nasty in their impacts of single mothers.
Gordon Campbell’s post in February 2012, highlights the same kind of language being used by English now in talking about Big Data: the “investment approach”.
Underpinning the reforms, Bennett explained, was ‘an investment approach’ – more details promised next year – “that will change long term, who we work with, and who we spend money on”.
As reported by Hickey in his second post linked above, English -speaks loudly of Big Brother monitoring of individuals, especially those receiving government spending. English speaks of aggregating data about individuals who have received funding for health, welfare and education.
English goes on to identify a shift away from government to private provisions of such “health, welfare and education spending,” as quoted in Hickey’s post of June 8th:
That’s the power the data gives us, and over time that’s going to mean quite dramatic shifts for the way Government does its business,” he said.
“(That’s) simply because the decision makers called ministers can know a hell of a lot more and understanding of what we’re trying to do is not controlled by the entities between us and the customers.”
English gave examples of how Government and business could work together to better understand or help people in need of help. He pointed to how the Government often struggled to find young single mothers or children who had been through many schools, or former students who were living overseas and not repaying their loans.
Here the Big Data shift is identified as a shift away from government provisions to bringing”business” more into the centre of decision-making. People in communities are described as “customers” not citizens, or members of the public. And again the example used is that of single mothers on benefits. These women are the ones that have been the main targets of the Team Key’s nasty beneficiary-bashing programme.
Vote for the people, against Big Brother and Privatisation of the public sector! Vote left!