The New Zealand I fell in love with is gone

Neo-liberalism the source of most evil

The other day I talked to my political correspondent up North and I raved about the ills of these times. I was talking about all the mundane things everyone is concerned about especially during an election period.

Housing or the lack of it especially in Auckland. The “market” running rampant over the years to the point where average income New Zealanders have no hope to ever own their own home as their parents did. Compounding the problem is the government running down their Housing New Zealand stock into a state of disrepair to have the excuse to sell it off.

Education under stress. The favourite pastime for right-wing politicians seems to be teacher bashing. May be because they are one of the very few professions still strongly unionised. Whenever some arbitrary standards are not reached or New Zealand doesn’t score as high as we think we should in (senseless) international comparisons teachers are blamed. The answer is never to assure that children don’t live in damp cold houses or even cars and caravans and come to school well fed and ready to learn. The recipe is always more or better teacher training as if they were the problem.
Auckland alone has currently a teacher shortage of 300 and candidates won’t even apply as they cannot afford to live in Auckland on the uniform country wide teacher’s salary. Skyrocketing house and rental prices force them out of Auckland.

Then there is the critically underfunded health service. We just learned that in Otago urgent heart operations have been routinely delayed sometimes after patients had been already prepared for the operation because of the lack of intensive care unit (ICU) beds. Some have died as the the consequence. In response the health minister insists that there is no shortage of ICU beds in Dunedin.

Seriously underfunded infrastructure especially public transport and rail is making Auckland’s commuter traffic unbearable during morning and evening rush hour. The National Party, which seems to be owned by the roading and trucking industry, has one answer, which is anything but public transport.

Another pinch point is the mental health service especially the world beating youth suicide rate. Last week I listened to a researcher in the field telling on National Radio that our suicide rate in the early eighties was comparable to other similar countries. Since the advent of Neo-liberalism in New Zealand called Rogernomics youth suicides skyrocketed.

I had to take a breath and my friend told me that I was all over the place and had lost him. I reminded him of the thread connecting all these ills, which is their common cause : Neo-liberalism.

And the list goes on through every sector. The neo-liberal dogma of austerity beats the value of human life and a healthy future for the next generations and the planet every time.

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Think that is bad ? You haven’t seen half of it.

When I visited New Zealand then known as God’s-own for the first time in 1981 I fell in love with it. Not only with it’s beauty from the mountains to the beaches and everything in between but with her people. They seemed to be kind, caring and fair minded.  New Zealand had pioneered many progressive social achievements like giving women the vote, creating a welfare state looking after the most vulnerable, social housing, ACC and the universal old age pension  Most of all we prided ourselves of living in a more egalitarian society than the ones most of us had left behind.
I remember the locker room in my local golf club with all the members names displayed with their handicaps. One chap had been appointed to the bench and it had obviously gone to his head. He added the new title to his name “Judge” Smith. Soon there were “plumber” Jones, “nurse” Stewart and “builder” Bob and the guy very quickly got the message.
Those were the times when it was famously claimed that the Minister of Labour knew all the unemployed by their first names.

Then in 1984 the Reagan/Thatcher neo-liberal revolution hit our shores in the form of Rogernomics and all hell broke loose.

Over the last couple of weeks we have witnessed the very worst result of the neo-liberal dogma forced down our throats for 33 years. This is the now entrenched believe that it is your fault if you are poor. It is your fault when the freezing works or engineering company closed and you are unemployed after 20 plus years on the job. It is your fault if you dare to leave an abusive relationship with your children and have to rely on the domestic purpose benefit (DPB). It is your fault if you fall ill and have to live on the sickness benefit. This new neo-liberal mindset applauds the Work and Income (WINZ) staff who are paid bonuses for not paying out benefits people are entitled to and who are acting worse than the Spanish Inquisition.
All is personal responsibility and “there is no such thing as society” (Margret Thatcher).

This ugly new New Zealand mindset came to the surface after Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei confessed at the social policy launch that she had lied to WINZ 24 years ago when she raised a baby studying for a law degree.

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Let us disregard the further developments since the Spanish Inquisition dug up the dirt. Let’s look at the public reaction when the story was that she had to chose between equally bad choices to either feed her baby or lie to WINZ and that she did disclose this to highlight the fact that many beneficiaries are facing that very same choice today.

The reaction was split. The right-wing commentariat was foaming at the mouth that a politician and member of Parliament had broken the law 24 years ago. Of course they would do anything to distract from the message that we have a huge poverty problem. On the other side people who live in the poverty trap called benefit see Metiria as their martyr saint. She is the only one who understands their terrible situation and is prepared to speak up for them. All this was to be expected.

However the harsh vitriolic often hateful reaction of “ordinary” people in the letters to the editor on talkback radio and discussions in the pub to a “benefit fraud” committed in the mid 1990-ies is an eyeopener. We have to remember the context of the “crime” when the “mother of all budgets” (Ruth Richardson) had cut benefits by a quarter to give tax cuts to the rich.
Still the neo-liberal brainwash of personal responsibility managed to turn the poor against the poor instead of the rich who had just stolen from them. In the pub on Friday night with a prominent political columnist we were approached by a woman of about the same age as Metiria asking us what we thought about her confession. She really didn’t give us a chance before she unloaded. She had been on a benefit with a small child at the time and never cheated. There were beneficiaries having babies just to stay on the benefit while she had abortions. Metiria had stolen from her. Benefits were not an entitlement, which of course is totally false. This I’m afraid was not just one crazy person but representative of a nasty groundswell in New Zealand’s society if there is anything left of a so called “society”.

The New Zealand I fell in love with over 35 years ago is truely gone. Very sad.

 

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