Friday, June 28, 2013

Getting what we deserve - by Justin Latif

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripples of hope, and these ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert F Kennedy Jr.

I became a paid up member of a political party this month. With my $25 fee I seamlessly joined the clunking machinery of a parliamentary party. My hope is that by becoming affiliated with this particular political party, I can get more involved in the local body politics of my community and learn more about how the wheels of power work in our area.

However, after a little reading I was surprised to learn that less and less people are doing the same.

It seems membership to political parties has been in steady decline across the developed world since the 1950s and 1960s and this has been seen most dramatically in western Europe where party members now make up less than 2 per cent of the voting public in the United Kingdom, France and Ireland[1] .

In New Zealand it’s only a little better, where party memberships have dropped from around 24 per cent of voters in the 1960s and to be now sitting at just under 3 per cent of the electorate [2]

And not only has voter engagement on a membership level declined, but voting numbers have also dramatically dropped. At the last election, just over 70 per cent of 3.2 million eligible voters made it the polling booths [3]. While voter enrolment amongst our youngest cohort (18-24 years-old) sits at an abysmal 73 per cent compared to 98 per cent of those in the 40 plus age bracket [4].

As the old Russian saying goes, ‘we get the government that we deserve’, and it comes as no surprise to read that 48 per cent of the $22 billion social welfare budget is being allocated for superannuation, while spending for youth training schemes and transition programmes make up less than 1 per cent of allocated monies[5]. While it could be argued that the Governments is skewing its spending priorities towards those who vote, the main issue of concern is the overall apathy towards getting involved in the political process.

It doesn’t take a political science degree to work out that the lower rates of party membership and voter participation result in less accountability for our nation’s leaders. However, as another electoral cycle rolls around for our local body politicians, these alarming statistics should make us consider whether at 'such a time as this', we should throw our own hat into the ring. Despite the relative obscurity of the local body politician compared to his or her counter-part in the Beehive, they have incredible power and influence in the communities in which they preside. Local board members can have a huge influence on the number of liquor and gambling outlets opened in their communities. They wield discretionary budgets to organise community sports events, festivals and local infrastructure enhancements. And they also have the opportunity to use their influence and resources to improve the inter-connectedness across a community in a way few can.

With only a few months before nominations close, do give serious thought to whether your local health board, licensing trust or community board could do with your input. When more of us engage and serve in civic institutions we create the ‘ripples of hope’ which Robert F Kennedy spoke of and we can be contributors, not just bystanders, to the waves of change in our neighbourhoods.






Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fear and loathing in Aotearoa - By Annaliese Johnston

Today is World Refugee Day. It marks a day when tens of thousands of people around the world take time to recognize and applaud the contribution of forcibly displaced people throughout the world. This recognition of the importance of welcoming vulnerable people to our borders made me think of the famous verse from Galatians; that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Refugees travelling via boat.

The Apostle Paul reasserting that the lines and barriers that for so long divided communities of people was radical, more radical than we might imagine. Using “all one” to define community as opposed to defining by difference was pretty gear-shifting in a context where a male Jew would never dare speak to nor go near a female Samaritan. The famous verse is as pertinent today as it would have been when it was written in 1st Century, and throughout a chequered global church history of wars, crusades, and racial and state conflict. In Aotearoa we don’t necessarily face the ripping apart of a society from Apartheid or civil war but we do have our own stigmas, our own inequalities and our own discomfort with difference.

The Human Rights Commission recently released stats that revealed that beneficiaries are the most discriminated against group of people in our society. “Nimbyism” is the term used to refer to the concept of “Not In My Backyard”, where residents fight against a proposal for a new development because it is close to them, often with the connotation that such residents believe that the developments are needed in society but should be further away from them. Calls to “stop the Asian invasion” and the claim that “our jobs” are being stolen by foreigners is often used to cover underlying fears of a new multi-cultural nation. In this backdrop, “Xenophobia”, defined as the “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”, starts to sound very apt. 

This is an area where Christians can be radically different. The call from Paul in Galatians speaks of a Kingdom picture, a Christ-like picture: One where we have equal regard to people from all nations, backgrounds, races and socio economic statuses. It is not one where we differentiate on these things, but where we choose to live a different narrative; where being different or coming from somewhere else is not something to fear, but to celebrate.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A perfect natural experiment - By Alan Johnson

The Government’s recent move in housing policy provides us with a perfect natural experiment to test the validity of their neo-liberal orthodoxy. 

The policy move in focus here is the Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas Bill which is presently being rushed through the legislative process. The basic idea of this Bill is to ‘enhance housing affordability by facilitating an increase in land and housing supply’. The 'facilitating' is merely the stripping away of regulatory processes such as those under the Resource Management Act – a move which the Law Society has described as ‘contrary to the rule of law and good legislative principles’.

A natural experiment is an empirical study in which the experimental conditions are determined by nature. In other words when something like an outbreak of disease happens in the big wide world we can study the impacts of this outbreak to help us establish a causal link to something else such as polluted water or overcrowded housing. 

In promoting the Auckland Housing Accord, the Housing Minister Nick Smith confidently announced that the accord with Auckland Council was expected to produce 39,000 additional dwellings over the next three years including 9,000 in the first year. Such an outcome would be a stunning turnaround in Auckland’s housing fortunes given that less than 4,000 new dwellings per year have been consented over the last four years.  

Thirty-nine thousand new dwellings represents more than $12 billion in new investment which if this comes about, will be all the proof I need that all this time it was excessive regulation holding back the market from building affordable homes for tens of thousands of low income Auckland families.  If investors will stump an extra $12 billion of their hard earned cash to put into affordable housing because of an agreement between Nick Smith and Auckland Mayor Len Brown it will be clear evidence that the problem was always those planners and building inspectors at Auckland Council. 

The good thing about this natural experiment is that we should see clear evidence of progress within the next year. 

Editor's note: What's your hypothesis for this 'natural experiment'?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Other Sides of New Zealand: Part 1 - By Ronji Tanielu

Controversial Cartoon:
What do you think about our attitudes to race in NZ?
Earlier this week, I spent some time inside the Koru Lounge at Wellington Airport. My boss is a Koru Lounge aficionado whereas I was a nervous rookie, fumbling to show my boarding pass to the staff and worried my tattoos might stop me from gaining entry or even securing a job as a flight attendant!

Anyway, from the start I felt uncomfortable there. But the free drinks and food helped ease my concerns. My boss left for his flight and I sat on a couch, feeling like I stuck out as much as John Banks would if he walked around the Otara Fleamarkets! 

Soon, a middle-aged woman came and sat next to me. I thought “cool” I can chat with her while I wait for my flight. She sat down, put her purse on the handbag next to me and then got up to go get some food. She walked about four steps, turned around and looked at me. She then walked back to the couch, snatched her handbag up, and walked away, all the while staring at me. I drank in that experience, filed it away for a rainy day and decided to immediately leave the Koru Lounge and wait for my flight where the non-Koru Lounge citizens were sitting.

Shocked? No.

Surprised? No.

Used to it? Yes.

Saddened? Yes.

Happen again? Probably.

This interesting yet common occurrence made me wonder something – why do we seem at times to be worried or afraid of that which is different to you? Our nation prides itself on being a progressive and liberal society. Yet, borrowing a little bit from Hamlet, I think there truly are some rotten things in our nation. I believe we are a nation that isn’t always as accepting of what or who is different as we would like to think. My joyous experience in the Wellington Koru Lounge is simply a minor example of that. But major examples exist.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 30 2013.
Megan Levy argues that most Australians are clearly against overt forms of racism. But casual racism, where you’re slightly racist in a casual fashion through jokes, names, comments, and so on, might be more prevalent in Australia.

How about in our beautiful nation? Well, surely a bunch of cartoons from the South Island don’t count as casual racism do they? Surely my jokes about a Maori, Pakeha and Islander walking into a bar don’t count. Freedom of speech and all that!

I believe one of the biggest examples of our nation’s fear of that which is different is happening right now in Auckland as the Auckland Council and Government try to address the housing crisis. As house prices skyrocket and adequate housing becomes increasingly unaffordable and unattainable for families, I think the fear of what is different will become pronounced. This fear of difference is embodied in the doctrine of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) that pervades some of the legislation, plans and policies designed to address this crisis. It’s good we sort the housing crisis out… but I don’t know want them living in our area. Housing intensification and inclusionary zoning would be wonderful…but maybe in those suburbs and not ours.

What do you think?