The Minister of Housing says that people dying in winter of pneumonia is 'not new'. While Nick Smith's callousness should obviously be condemned it also too easy to simply blame him for the recent tragic deaths.

THE MINISTER OF HOUSING may not be up to much as a compassionate human being, but it is all together too easy to scapegoat him for the deaths of two people because of inadequate housing.

Emma-Lita Bourne, a small child, died of a brain haemorrhage in August 2014, which the coroner found could partly be blamed on the poor condition of the state house she lived in.

Soesa Tovo, a father of six, also died in August last year, in the depths of winter. He had lung and heart problems,as well as pneumonia, and had been admitted to hospital. His doctors had made numerous requests to Housing NZ  to have the family moved to a better house.

Smith's response has been to downplay the deaths claiming that ""people dying in winter from pneumonia and from other illnesses is not new."

"If we sit here and pretend that we are going to be able to eliminate every case of where a person dies from respiratory illnesses or the like, they are kidding themselves," said Smith.

So we can all move on then, can we? No one is to blame. It was just the cold weather. Nick's got it all sorted.

The callousness (as well as stupidity) of Smith's comments are extraordinary and I imagine many people would like to put Nick Smith put in the stockade immediately and throw rotten vegetables at him for a few hours.

Certainly Radio Live's Duncan Garner had a good go at Smith yesterday, commenting that he was simply 'out of touch' with what was happening in the community.

But it's just too easy to blast Smith, however deserved. In both of the cases the two homes were inadequately heated. Indeed Soesa Tovo's wife said that they could not afford to heat the house. It appears that the family just huddled together in the living room.

While Labour might want to appear as the cavalry coming to the rescue, the skyrocketing power prices in this country over the past three decades have occurred under both National and Labour government's.

It was Labour that transformed the power companies into 'state owned enterprises' so they could act as private corporations with profit their prime focus.

We should remember that under the last five years of the Clark Government power prices rose by a massive 48 percent and rose some 72 percent over the nine years of that government. They have continued to rise under National which has, of course partially privatised the power companies.

While someone like Duncan Garner might attack Nick Smith for his comments this is also the same Duncan Garner who, shortly before the last election, gave the National Government the thumbs up for its management of the economy.

And many of the Labourites attacking Nick Smith now had very little to say about the economic crimes of the Labour government under Helen Clark. Where were they, these champions of the working class, while the power prices surged upwards? As usual, they complain loudly in opposition - only to squeak like mice when in power.

Fuel poverty is a major health issue in this country and has been for years. It is estimated that a quarter of all households are affected by fuel poverty with the price of electricity being the main driver. But, despite widespread international recognition, fuel poverty is not officially defined, measured, or explicitly targeted by government policy in New Zealand.

 In 2008 some 10,000 New Zealanders were disconnected for falling to pay their bills. Last year that figure had risen to some 42,000.

The answer cannot be just to wave our fists at Nick Smith but to campaign for the nationalisation of the power companies so they can be managed as social utilities providing affordable power to all. They should be brought back into public ownership, and run democratically in the interests of workers and consumers. Then, prices can be controlled, bills made affordable, and profits invested in cheaper, cleaner and safer energy supplies, rather than in shareholder dividends.

But such is the bankruptcy of 'representative democracy' and the dominance of neoliberal doctrine not one of the parliamentary parties can see beyond the demands of the 'free market'. About as far as both Labour and the Green's will go is some light handed regulation, but nothing to unduly alarm the market.


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