Making it work

Tim Barnett
Chief Executive
National Building Financial
Capability Charitable Trusttim-barnett

When – months ago – I accepted the kind invitation to write a blog towards the end of October, the thought that it would be the one to herald the arrival of a government of Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my mind.  But it happened, and here we are.  And what’s on offer is a journey like never before. We are promised a referendum on legalising cannabis for personal use, new law to prevent waka-jumping, a $1 billion regional development fund, 100 000 high quality, affordable new homes in the next 10 years, a full review of the social investment approach and much much more.  The context is the most significant and comprehensive questioning to date in New Zealand of the neoliberal approach, and the social damage generated by that approach is a strong driver.

NGOs have been crucial to building the depth and breadth of that agenda, and we will be crucial to how it is rolled out, and how effective the measures are.  In a sense that is true of any incoming government with a busy work programme, but if we really are at the point of generational change in how we are governed then our collective role gains heightened focus.  And, working with a government remarkable for its ethnic and gender mix, and its (in political terms at least) youth focus, NGOs will need to adapt in order to impact as much as we need to.  NGOs not used to advocacy and lobbying will need to learn and apply those skills if the dreams and vision which led to their establishment are going to be realised.

Getting the agenda delivered is one thing, moving hearts and minds so that the reform is not undone after a few years by a government of a different hue is another matter entirely. The unique skills of politicians do not include moving hearts and minds, and keeping them in that new place.  They can sell the need for law change, and (working with officials, tempered by NGO comment through lobby and Select Committee) can mould law that does the job intended.  But it is NGOs who build the case for change informed by grassroots stories and real data, and then – after the reform – show what a difference has been made.  That is the cement for reform.

So what does this mean for NGOs through the next three years?  I suggest:

  • Grab the moment to realise your dreams
  • Work out and deliver your active role in law reform, in setting the scene, proving the demand and showing how it has worked.
  • Try and see matters through the lens of a politically complex government trying to deliver fundamental change and juggling many, many urgent priorities.

This blog is written in Tim Barnett’s personal capacity.

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.

Click here for our website:  http://comvoices.org.nz/