I have always been proud to be a New Zealander. I am proud that my country was the first place in the world to give women the vote, and the first country to bring in universal benefits for the poor and elderly. I am incredibly proud to say that New Zealand consistently ranks first-equal in the world for a corruption-free government.
But my faith in my country’s ability to keep our proud record of a government with integrity – and a society that values a chance in life for all New Zealanders – is dwindling by the day. More than a quarter of our children live in poverty. Families go without medications because they can’t afford to fill their prescriptions.
The National government’s war on the poor has resulted in thousands of families being left without monetary support, under the guise of saving the taxpayers millions. That reasoning would make sense, if the government had also targeted companies who avoid paying taxes, which costs us all billions. This has not happened. Poor people have become the scapegoats for all of society’s ills by government Ministers who take pride in nicknames such as “Crusher Collins.”
The philosophy of “saving” taxpayers money has resulted in thousands of public servants losing their jobs. These exercises take millions of dollars to implement, with savings in the arena of hundreds of thousands. Public servants can now expect the princely sum of 0% pay-rises, whilst doing their own work and all of their former colleagues, resulting in a public service that is stressed and stretched beyond their abilities. Something is not adding up here.
Legislation over the last six years has overwhelmingly been pushed through under urgency—a bizarre practise in an open democracy, where we would expect important issues that affect all New Zealanders to be debated openly and in full. Instead, bills have been rushed through in a couple of hours, with New Zealanders waking up time and time again to find that their rights have been significantly altered overnight.
Our Prime Minister, John Key, has somehow weathered the public backlash on all these changes by shrugging off any dissent and telling us all what we think. “At the end of the day, New Zealanders are smart, and they understand that…” is his constant refrain. Verified documents that showed his Ministers were colluding with right-wing bloggers to conduct targeted smear campaigns against public servants, clinicians who campaign for healthy eating, and opposing political parties has been dismissed as a “left-wing smear campaign”—despite all of the incriminating documents coming from his own colleagues.
And in John Key’s defence, the echoing silence from New Zealanders backs him up. Amazingly, National continues to receive more than 50% of New Zealanders’ votes in the latest polls. From what I can tell, New Zealanders don’t care that John Key lied when he said that all of our communications (that’s everything folks: emails, phone calls, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc) are not being recorded and sent to American and New Zealand spies for “security” reasons. We don’t care that his government rushed through legislation to make mass surveillance legal, to expand the tentacles of government into our private lives—and without the public being allowed to know the details of this surveillance.
We don’t care that surveillance makes people more afraid, more likely to conform and to not say what they really think—that it goes directly against what a democracy stands for. We don’t care that Prime Minister John Key assured us that this legislation would not give the government rights to mass surveillance, despite this being stated as its exact purpose in government documents. We don’t care that John Key only released documents about his government’s work to invade all of our privacy in the week before his government may or may not be elected—not at the time when New Zealanders were marching in the streets to prevent our private information being sent to the four winds.
We don’t care that our Prime Minister resorts to bullying and name-calling when under pressure, labelling Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glen Greenwald a ‘henchman’ when he made a pro bono trip to alert New Zealanders to the government invasion of our private information. We don’t care that the evidence is backed up by the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange – apparently all New Zealanders already know these men are mere henchmen too, bent on toppling the Prime Minister of a small country at the bottom of the world.
We don’t care that legislation was rushed through our parliament to allow Warner Brothers to hire people to work on the “The Hobbit” without giving them any of New Zealand’s employment protections. We don’t care that America helped draft the legislation that means that New Zealanders can be hunted down and charged with illegally downloading a song or two.
We don’t care that the National government has passed 12 pieces of legislation in recent years identified as inconsistent with the rights and freedoms protected in the New Zealand Bill of Rights, and using urgency in Parliament to limit or bypass select committee scrutiny. We don’t care that the United Nations has called for New Zealand to improve its human rights track record.
Where has the New Zealand that I know and love gone? The New Zealand that sent boats to protest nuclear testing in the Pacific? The New Zealand that fought tooth and nail until our women could vote? The New Zealand that protested in force when our government allowed a fully white Springboks rugby team to tour our country during South Africa’s apartheid? The New Zealand that recognised from its beginnings that all people are equal, and that everyone deserves a chance in life to reach their potential?
New Zealand goes to the polls this Saturday the 20th of September, and we all have a choice. We can choose not to vote or to keep this unequal status quo. We can choose to focus on economic development without any consideration of the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and to continue to pay mere lip service to the climate change that threatens to change life on Earth as we know it. We can vote for parties that will continue to sell off our assets, to strip away our rights to privacy, to continue to sell off the 20% of our country that is not in foreign hands, and to keep tomorrow’s generation growing up hungry.
Or we can vote to change—to make changes that benefit all New Zealanders. We can vote to give our children warm homes, food, and medical care—measures that will help them to learn in school, reduce the potential for them to end up in the criminal system, and help them to flourish. To make corporates actually pay the tax that they are legally required to. To create a business environment that allows our economy to grow, without polluting and destroying our beautiful land in the process. We can set aside notions of what is best for ourselves, and think about what is best for our country as a whole, to look ahead to the future and decide what kind of New Zealand we want our future generations to inherit.
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