Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Truly Dickensian

After Housing Minister, Phil Heatley's, new "prior permission" rule for state house tenants, one is tempted to ask: 'What's next - workhouses?!"

THE performance of Housing New Zealand’s Chief Operating Officer, Stephen McArthur, on this morning’s edition of Morning Report was deeply disturbing. Defending HNZ’s new policy of requiring state house tenants to acquire prior permission from their landlord before offering shelter to a person, or persons, released on bail, he managed to sound both cruel and condescending.

Access to state housing is supposed to be determined strictly on the basis of need, but McArthur and his masters – presumably with the full sanction of Housing Minister, Phil Heatly – have decided to insert this entirely new contractual obligation in HNZ’s standard tenancy agreement.

The effect is to introduce into the State’s landlord-tenant relationship a truly Dickensian level of paternalism. It was quite clear from McArthur’s tone that he regards state tenants as a lesser-breed of human-being.

These unfortunates, along with their wayward friends and family, cannot be relied upon to act responsibly towards their neighbours. So, unlike other adult members of the community, their decision-making must be augmented and refined by the altogether more responsible and informed judgement of HNZ staff. And, while "normal" home-owners are perfectly at liberty to designate their own homes as places to which family-members and/or friends in trouble with the authorities may be bailed, state tenants must apply for and receive their landlord’s "permission" before offering such refuge.

Leaving aside HNZ’s rejection of the long-established common-law principle that a person is deemed innocent until proven guilty, this new "prior permission" rule cannot help but dangerously stigmatise state house tenants. Whenever citizens are required to divest themselves of rights enjoyed by other members of the community – in this case the right to offer safe haven for a person or persons in distress – they are diminished as citizens, and demeaned as human-beings.

HNZ’s new rule, by undermining the equality of all citizens, strikes at the very heart of New Zealand’s egalitarian traditions. It is objectionable from virtually every reasonable perspective, but most particularly because it constitutes a form of "prior restraint".

What HNZ – and the National-led Government – are saying with this new rule is that state tenants are essentially children, whose judgement cannot be relied upon, and whose rights and freedoms must be rigorously circumscribed in the name of protecting the rights and freedoms of their neighbours and the local community.

It's a telling insight into the ethics of this Government, that it sees HNZ’s new rule as being both fair and reasonable. What in God’s name is fair and reasonable about requiring parents to secure the prior permission of some faceless bureaucrat before they’re allowed to bring their son or daughter, niece or nephew, home from the Police lock-up?

What’s next: workhouses?


ConorJoe said...

Daddy State it is then.
Seperate townships for ex-lags?
Perhaps, if I may, armbands? or badges? to worn, but not anything large enough to be a 'patch' no, no.
And on a different note, I read yr 'making the protest count' post, then watched the 3news, yep - "up to 7000, yardee yardee yah..." heartbreaking really, AND it wasn't the lead: shots of a young woman smoking a fag outside a building was. Shizer!

Bradley said...

What's the mentality of the Daddy State?
I think it's something close to "If you're going to live under my roof, you have to follow my rules!" that staple of fatherly rhetoric since time immemorial.

rouppe said...

That would be the same mentality that requires my tenants to gain my permission before they add new occupants to one of my teancies.

I've had awful experiences of arrogant "don't give a shit" tenants. The ones that said the house is for them and their 2 children. Only to discover a month later that 2 grandparents and a couple of extra kids were there.

The ones where I specifically put "no pets" on the tenancy agreement and they went out and bought a dog after moving in.

The ones where after spending $30,000 renovating the place, the new tenants begain failing to pay rent within one month of moving in.

Each of these examples takes several months of going through the process before they either conform to the agreement or are ordered to leave.

Now dealing with this is a choice I have made in being a landlord. And deal with it I do. However it is my right to determine the conditions of that tenancy. It is, after all, my property.

The same goes for state houses. I expect a duty of care by the landlord, and a duty of responsibility by the tenant. Unfortunately the latter is not forthcoming, so the landlord needs to firm up the rules. No problem.

Anonymous said...

This reflects the absolute hypocracy of HNZ. Two years ago, HNZ in Auckland placed a violent, racist drunk, newly released fom some institution, in the other half of a duplex unit next to a friend of mine. It was a disaster from the start. he racially abused her before he even moved in, and abused me when I visited her. I tried to suggest to HNZ that putting this racist drunk next to a timid, eldery African woman refugee was not a good idea, but they ignored me.
The whole street was subject to his violent outbursts as he fought with the other drunks and druggies he gathered around him. HNZ made half hearted attempts to terminate his tenancy but finaly, he was murdered by one his druggie friends who set fire to him on the front lawn.
The whole thing could have been avoided if HNZ had exercised a fraction of the "duty of care" I heard this HNZ Manager wittering on about on the radio.