Overseas Travel at Taxpayers’ Expense by Angela Caldin

overseas travelSocial Development Minister Paula Bennett announced recently here in New Zealand that more than 21,000 people (superannuitants not included) have had their benefits cut now that rules concerning overseas travel have been tightened, saving more than $10.5 million since July last year. Just over half of these were people on job seeker benefits, and about a quarter were sole parents. Ms Bennett said that although the rules are tighter, they still allow for overseas travel on compassionate or health grounds in certain cases for job seekers, while beneficiaries without work obligations may in most cases travel overseas for up to 28 days in any one year.

Benefits don’t pay for Holidays

For many of us, when we first hear about them, these figures seem startling. Overseas travel conjures up a picture of packing one’s leisure clothes and taking off for a well-earned break somewhere in the sunshine, sipping a cocktail and relaxing by a swimming pool. But such a life of idle luxury is unlikely to be the reality for those on benefit who go overseas. People on benefit make difficult choices every day about which bill to pay and it is unlikely they could afford to travel unless someone helps them or they have an illegal second income. Clearly, you are hardly a jobseeker if you are not here looking for work in NZ, but many unemployed who go overseas to the Islands are going to funerals or other family events, have often borrowed the money to get there and don’t know about the new rules. As I understand it, most people on job seekers’ benefit would much prefer to be in employment, but they need real jobs with adequate wages, not short term or zero hours contracts and other practices which result in them being worse off in work than they were on benefit.

Royal Beneficiaries on Overseas Trip

A family of royal overseas travellers have arrived in New Zealand and will spend several days touring the country at the expense of New Zealand taxpayers, so the $10 million Paula Bennett has saved will come in useful to defray that cost. William, the Queen’s grandson, and his wife and child are here to . . . do what? I’m not quite sure.  The Queen, who lives on the other side of the world, is head of state of NZ and it follows that William will eventually take over that role unless New Zealand decides in the meantime that it would prefer to be a republic. So perhaps William and Kate’s visit is an attempt to strengthen the ties between the UK and its far flung outpost. They make an attractive couple with a bonny baby and she looks good in the silly hats she’s required to wear. But what exactly are they for and what will their visit achieve? The Prime Minister, John Key, accepts that these royal visits aren’t cheap, but he adds, ‘On the other side of the coin, if you look at what will happen over the course of that 10 days, New Zealand will get tremendous international coverage.’ This is no doubt true and businesses are already queuing up in the hope that the royals will wear/use/drink/eat their products, while tourist attractions are hoping for worldwide publicity and an associated increase in custom.

Movement towards a Republic

The royal party will not be visiting the historic site of Waitangi, where the famous treaty was signed in 1840 which established a British governor of New Zealand and gave Maori the rights of British subjects. In addition, the Maori King Tuheitia has refused to meet the royals because he wanted more time with them than the 90 minutes allotted. Maori make up 15% of the population so the royals would do well to cultivate their support. Sections of the rest of the population are showing some distance from the royals, and in spite of a great deal of cooing and drooling over baby George, there are indications that younger New Zealanders in particular are drifting away from the British Crown, with a significant republican movement hoping that William and Kate will never be their King and Queen. More than 10% of the population are of Asian heritage, and they, on the face of it, have little allegiance to the Crown. The latest poll in March this year, by Curia Market Research, commissioned by New Zealand Republic, shows support for a New Zealand head of state has increased to 44% with support from people aged 18-30 at 66%. Nothing is likely to change while the Queen is still alive, but after her death a referendum on the subject is likely which is why the charm offensive of the royal visit is so important for the monarchy. In the meantime we can expect endless comment on Kate’s clothes and George’s gorgeousness, but what we are really dealing with is celebrity through heredity and not a proper consideration of an appropriate head of state for a modern day New Zealand.

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