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Sex shop window display campaigner among many hoping to be heard at Parliament

Sex shop window display campaigner among many hoping to be heard at Parliament

Lynne Low is so angry with the window displays of a sex shop in Auckland that she passes with her children on the way to school that she has petitioned Parliament for change to advertising rules.

The champion of bondage-free streetscapes is just one of many people who exercise their democratic right to petition MPs.

While some would appear to have little prospect of success – “No more money used as currency”, for example – many are pleas for law-changes to make markets, and people’s economic lives, function better.

These include Low on advertising standards, anti-workplace bullying campaigner Allan Halse, franchisee law reformer Gurmeet Singh, and apartment guru Charles Levin, all hoping to get orphan business issues off the bottom of MPs’ to-do list.

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MPs on Parliament‘s select committees must consider every petition, so they offer a chance of being heard in the corridors of power.

THE CONCERNED MUM

Low resents her children being exposed to pictures of women in bondage on a main street in a busy shopping area, and believes it’s time advertisers were forced to comply with standards of common decency.

“I go through efforts to put safety filters on my children‘s devices … and I can’t stop them from looking at this stuff on the street corner,” she says.

The images were the covers of fetish toy boxes containing rope, handcuffs and whips, showing women in black lingerie who had been restrained, in one case, being caressed by a man.

“It’s not okay to teach innocent children that it’s okay for women to be tied up for sex,” she says.

Low’s petition says she asked the owner of the store on Great North Rd in New Lynn, to remove the items, but he refused citing “free speech”.

Frustrated, she contacted police, and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), but she says she was told her complaint was in a “grey area”.

ASA chief executive Hilary Souter says its complaint panel will make a decision on whether the products in the window were advertisements, and whether their display breached the code.

The ASA is a self-regulatory body funded by members.

While it inquires into complaints from the public, its decisions have no legal force, though Souter says advertisers have a high level of “buy in” to its decisions.

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The ASA has handled complaints about window displays, and matters of public decency before. The Advertising Code stats that: “Advertisements must not contain anything that is indecent, or exploitative, or degrading, or likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence, or give rise to hostility, contempt, abuse or ridicule.

It also says: “Sexual imagery or language must be appropriate to the audience and medium” and that adverts “must be prepared and placed with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society”.

Last year the ASA complaints panel decided a shop window advertisement showing a cartoon image of a young woman standing naked in water up to her buttocks with her breasts and nipples showing was appropriate as it was advertisinga bathing product.

In 2017, the authority found displaying sex toys and posters of them in another prominent Auckland sex shop was acceptable, within limits of decency.

Of five giant posters displayed, four were socially acceptable, but one featuring a model in lingerie reclining, holding a sex toy with the wording “Sex Fun” and “Feel the Fun” was explicit and sexual, and likely to cause widespread offence.

But in 2015 a complaint about an adult shop displaying a poster of an R18 movie featuring women in bondage gear was note deemed to be an advertisement by the authority.

Low is petitioning MPs to require the ASA to define all window displays advertisements.

But since learning the ASA has no official government standing, she is considering changing her petition, perhaps to ask MPs to pass a law requiring adverts, including shop windows, not to contain explicit sexual imagery, in public places.

“We don’t have the reinvent the wheel here.

We need to use already established standards,” she says.

THE ANTI-BULLY

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Allan Halse is celebrating the sixth anniversary of being dismissed by Hamilton City Council, where he had fought what he called “a bully culture”.

In the years since his Culturesafe NZ organisation has fought to publicise New Zealand’s workplace bullying culture.

Halse’s decade of experiences advocating for victims has led to his petition for MPs to “create a low-level disputes resolution process based on the United Kingdom Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) model”.

Acas operates a “conciliation” system where workers can ask for help to resolve their bullying issues.

Acas organises talks, which take place over the phone for up to one month, with the whole process being voluntary, so employers can refuse to take part.

For Halse, the system offers the prospect of saving working relationships before they become so toxic they are beyond repair.

It also offers the potential for national culture change, and filling the gap left by the decline of unions.

The productivity gains, and savings for businesses, individuals and the health system were so large, a New Zealand scheme similar to the Acas scheme would pay for itself, he says.

“The Acas model saves the UK economy £13 (NZ$26) for every £1 spent on it.

In May last year, a report into bullying in Parliament painted a damning picture of “systemic” bullying in Parliament, where unacceptable conduct was too often tolerated or normalised, the identities of the worst bullies were an open secret, and there was low accountability, particularly for MPs, who faced few sanctions for harmful behaviour.

“They (MPs) have been very reluctant to do anything, so I thought a safer approach would be to get a lower level process going that wouldn’t have any negative implications for anybody,” Halse said.

Bullying creates costs because of decreases in productivity due to worker absenteeism, staff turnover, lower staff satisfaction and time spent investigating bullying,” Halse says, and may be costing the economy $1 billion a year.

He hopes his petition, which has so far gathered fewer signatures than one calling for koalas to be introduced to New Zealand, will make workplace bullying into a political, and even an election issue.

Halse estimates as many as 500,000 workers were subject to forms of bullying at work.

“These are people of voting age.

Why wouldn’t politicians do it? I’d be putting it at the top of my voting list.”

THE APARTMENT GURU

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National MPs believe the Unit Titles Act governing the running of body corporates – the mini-councils running apartment buildings for owners –ne updating, but the party was voted out before they could do it.

Labour believes the same, and Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi says it will be reformed “when the time is right”.

Supporters of change like petitioner Charles Levin grumble that it comes a distant second to reform of tenancy laws.

Body corporates are charged with keeping buildings running, organising long-term maintenance plans, and amassing the funds needed for immediate and future repairs. Their good operation is vital to the future of rapidly-intensifying cities, most notably Auckland, Levin says.

Horror stories circulate in property circles about the behaviour of some body corporates, and groups like the Home Owners and Buyers Association, have raised concerns that long-term maintenance plans are not audited, and the amounts being set aside for future repairs are inadequate leaving.

It can make buying apartments fraught with uncertainty.

“The problem is few people have the depth of understanding or knowledge to tell whether a building is well run,” Levin says.

“We need more professionalism, and less amateurism.

More economically efficient countries would not tolerate the poor functioning of a market, says Levin, who plotted the petition with National MP Nikki Kaye in a bid to get reform back onto the political agenda.

“It’s good government.

You look at Singapore. It’s an example of good government,” says Levin.

 “They would get this sort of stuff sorted. Australia would too.

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Kaye says she believed she had secured Labour’s commitment to reforming the act, but it had come to nothing, even though the current situation could be described as a “market failure”, and updating the law was important to protect the interests of young people trying to secure home-ownership by buying an apartment.

Much work has already been done Kaye and National’s spokesperson for housing, urban development and planning Judith Collins have tabled a private members’ bill based on the consultation and work done while National was in government, but Labour has declined to adopt the bill.

Should National win the general election this year, it will reform the act, says Kaye, who became involved after constituents told her of their problems with the current laws.

The intensification of Auckland means the number of body corporates will double to over 12,000 in the next 15 years, says petition supporter David Watt, who reckons the Wellington-based Government and officials aren’t as concerned about Auckland’s future, as they should be.

“I think there’s a gap between Auckland City and the Government. Under Auckland’s unitary plan, there’s going to be something like another 6000 bodies corporate,” Watt says.

THE FRANCHISEE

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​Gurmeet Singh will not reveal which big-name fast food brand he is a franchisee for.

His contract as a franchisee forbids him from criticising it in public, but it hasn’t stopped him from petitioning MPs to follow their Australian counterparts and protect franchisees from unfair treatment from powerful franchisors.

“But it is my right to petition Parliament,” says Singh, who does fear the consequences of his petition, and declined to be photographed.

His petition asks that the rights of franchisees be protected by law and alleges that the financial pressure some franchisors exert on franchisees is contributing to financial abuse of workers.

A franchisee buys the right to run a business using the branding, systems and processes of a franchisor, with the terms of the deal written by the franchisor and its lawyers.

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Many branded fast food, cafe and service businesses are franchises.

MPs considered regulation around 2008 following high-profile franchise scandals. Australia, the United Kingdom and many US states regulate the “fair” treatment of franchisees.

Singh says franchisors need to be regulated in a similar way to real estate agents, financial advisers, and companies selling investments to the public.

Where the Real Estate Authority regulates real estate agents, and the Financial Markets Authority regulates investment companies, franchisors are effectively self-regulating through the Franchise Association of New Zealand’s (Fanz) five-page code of practice.

The association is not a government body but is a membership organisation, and its members are franchisors, not franchisees, says Singh.

Singh, from Tauranga, has drawn up a list of 10 demands, including an end to the one-sided rights franchisors‘ contracts claim.

This includes the unilateral right to alter franchise territories, and to collect royalty payments on zero-profit sales made in promotions required by the franchisor.

There are no legal requirements governing what franchisors must tell prosective franchisees, and there are no legal requirements for franchisors to be transparent around what marketing and advertising levies paid by their franchisees were actually spent on, as there are in some other countries.

Singh also alleges franchisees are often required to source products and services from their franchisor, or related companies, and sometimes they ended up paying unreasonably high prices.

Franchisees silence should not be seen as a sign nothing was wrong, Singh says.

“In New Zealand a lot of franchisees are migrants. They are scared they will lose everything,” he says.

In Australia in 2018, a parliamentary committee issued a report denouncing a system in which powerful, unscrupulous franchisors could exploit franchisees, who in turn were under intense pressure to pay staff as little as possible, and even break labour laws.

“At times, wage theft was occurring as a way for franchisees to extract profits or service payments in order to stay afloat in a financially constrained business model (given wages are one of the greatest costs in the franchisee’s control),” the report says.

 “In some instances wage theft was encouraged by franchisors.”

A properly regulated market was important as franchising now represented around 9 per cent of Australia’s GDP, the committee found.

It noted some franchisors‘ “bullying and intimidation used to silence and influence” franchisees, and commended the franchisees who dared to give evidence.

“We need minimum standards,” says Singh.

 “That’s what we are looking for, so franchisors can’t rip off franchisees who are putting everything on the line.”

“We just want fair treatment.

OTHER MONEY PETITIONS:

Don McLeod: “Ban manufacturing and importing of single-use plastic bottles”
Bernadine Kaa: “Make all credit cards and debit cards have photo IDs”
Carl Smith: “Allow KiwiSaver to be used for first-time business set-up”
VL Pomeroy: “Treat mortgage principal payments on own homes as KiwiSaver contributions”
Clifford Hallett: “Petition to have an extra day off work on your birthday”

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