Nga Patai, nga patai (Questions, questions)

Tess Casey
Chief Executive
Inclusive New Zealandtess-2-copy

Kia ora tatou!

I wasn’t going to write about the election but I can’t help myself.  I’m only recently back from a month away and I’m still struggling to figure out what has happened while I was gone.  When I left the election campaigning hadn’t really started but I wasn’t anticipating anything to be different from the other election campaigns in recent memory.  There’d be some debates, there’d be some policy announcements, there might be some election bribes, there’d be some mud-slinging and insults and there’d be some polls.  Quite frankly, we were all more interested in what was happening in US politics than we were with what was happening in our own back yard.

But it seems it really is true that a week is a long time in politics.

And in four weeks the whole political landscape can shift.   Suddenly three political parties had different leaders, there was scandal, drama and a good old-fashioned witch-hunt.  Even the UK media was talking about us.  Way to turn it up Aotearoa.

So now I have to write this blog, but all I have is questions.  So I’m just going with the questions in the hope that they will lead to some answers.

My first question is what has happened to the mainstream media?  With the exception of Radio New Zealand, I’ve come to expect that we get more opinion than fact in our news reporting, and the days of balanced, issues driven journalism are long gone.  But since I’ve been back I’ve seen actual fact-checking.  Politicians have not gotten away with throwing around bold statements and statistics that nobody understands.  They’ve been asked to explain themselves.  Second opinions have been sought.  I’m not sure what to make of it.

The mainstream media also seem to be open to talking about some big ideas.  My memory from the last election was that every policy announcement from every party was met with a question about tax cuts, regardless of how relevant it was.  This year they have shown willing to discuss the failure of neoliberalism.

Of course it’s not a total turnaround.  We’ve still got ‘media personalities’ feeling that it is totally ok to use their media platform to declare their political allegiances and promote them.  And they’re still obsessed with tax.  Not that tax isn’t important.  We in the community sector have a healthy appreciation for tax.  We wouldn’t have community and social services without them – or much else for that matter.

Which leads me to my second question.  Given that tax is so important why has there been so much horror at Labour’s suggestion that it might be a good idea to convene a working party of tax experts to take a long, hard look at our tax system?  We have a problem with inequality in this country and we currently have a system where millionaires and corporations can avoid paying tax, and people on low incomes with two jobs have to pay secondary tax.  It seems fairly sensible to me to try and figure out a fairer way of doing things.

I would also much rather that a group of people who understand tax and can figure out the impact of any proposed policies are put in charge of suggesting potential solutions.   The alternative is policy based on ideology and short-termism, which will require ongoing tinkering to put right.  Do we not have enough evidence by now that this isn’t a good way to solve problems?

So my third question is about leadership.   The reaction to the idea that we could perhaps take some time to get something as important as tax right raises some interesting questions about our notion of leadership in this country.  This week things in the media seem to be settling back into the usual election pattern of shouty interviews, sensationalised headlines that bear no resemblance to the actual story and pressing our politicians to answer questions on complex issues with yes/no answers.    This encourages politicians and voters alike to think that strength is about certainty, taking absolute positions and sticking to your guns regardless of the evidence.   And yet history shows us that good leaders are those that have a clear direction but are also brave enough to ask, think and adapt when they have to.

There is definitely a different feeling about this election.   Some big issues and big ideas are being put on the table, and people seem to be enjoying the opportunity to talk about more than tax cuts.  People want to talk about the type of country we want to be, they want positive dialogue and there seems to be an openness to thinking about new ways of tackling problems.  It is great to see young people engaged and hopeful.

It’s anyone’s guess what the result of this election will be.  This week the most reliable poll seems to be The Civilian’s Election Tracker.  But regardless of the result, I hope our politicians, our media and we, the voters, will note what has happened in this election campaign and stay open to challenging questions, good ideas and constructive debate.  There are people and families out there needing some change and momentum.

And speaking of momentum…

Konei te wiki o te reo!  Take up the Mahuru Māori challenge and maintain your efforts to use Māori for the whole month of September!

Inclusive NZ is a membership association for organisations and individuals involved in the provision of employment and community support services for disabled people. We work to build inclusive communities, and support our members through a diverse range of services including; providing information, research, training, events and organisational development.

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

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