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HON SIR ROGER DOUGLAS: A BETTER FUTURE FOR DISADVANTAGED PEOPLE

This article suggests that the winner of the 2023 election should be the party that gets voters to focus on the problems New Zealand currently faces and how their party intends to deal with those issues over the next 4-6 years.


KEY ISSUES FOR THE COMING ELECTION INCLUDE:


  • A better future for disadvantaged New Zealanders.


  • Health, Education, Housing, Welfare and Retirement.


  • The state of the New Zealand economy in light of Treasury’s bleak long-term fiscal forecasts for 2021-2061


None of these issues can be resolved to the satisfaction of the public unless they are placed in a medium-term context.


The public have had enough of the failed short-term policy “answers” various political parties have introduced over the last quarter century to meet the long-term problems we have faced in New Zealand during that period.


An integrated set of policies across all aspects of Health, Education, Welfare, Housing and Superannuation is required. The evidence shows:


· The issues listed below are in my view central to the 2023 election, because they react negatively on rich and poor alike.

· Poor parenting, lack of motivation, inadequate skills, alienation, unemployment and delinquency reinforce each other.

· Low income, inadequate housing, poor health, lack of opportunity, and a lack of economic growth are all part of the same syndrome.

· The 2023 election should be about which party voters see as likely to achieve the most for them and the country in these areas over the next 6 years. (2024-2030)


· The most urgent issues, in the main, focus on the plight of the disadvantaged and the adverse impact their plight has on the rest of the New Zealand public.


This article therefore concentrates on issue one above (Disadvantaged New Zealand people).


A BETTER FUTURE FOR DISADVANTAGED PEOPLE INCLUDING MAORI


Race relations are an issue that can make or break any political party in the 2023 general election campaign. Getting your party’s policy right is fundamental.


The issue of Maori equity and achievement is deeply interlocked with all other issues of disadvantage at every level. As a result, equity becomes a critical factor.


In speaking with Maori I am often told that their goal for themselves and Pacific Island people is to open up effective opportunities for them to share fully in the nation’s future.


The policy need is to place them in a position to do so in a self-sustaining way, based on their skills and initiative.


Complete justice based on the past is impossible, and in attempting it we must take care not to make bitterness a permanent feature of our race relations. Justice for Maori and Pacific Island people has to be based on what will work best for them and the community in this century, not the last one.

EDUCATION


The central problem is a failure of our education system to deliver Maori and Pacific people the knowledge and the skills which are essential to self-esteem and success in 2023 and beyond. Unless that situation can be remedied, the Maori and Pacific people will remain at a permanent disadvantage.


Their level of technical, professional and trade skills are more important to their future than, for example, questions of land ownership. Granting special privileges to Maori, which we withhold from disadvantaged people of other races, as this government has done, or intends to do as part of their changes to water management, will not solve our problems.


On the other hand, the right answers for Maori and for all disadvantaged people, based on individual choice and individual decision-making, rather than centralized decision making, will improve, rather than impede New Zealand’s future progress.


If we continue to ignore these issues, over time, the Maori and Pacific Island people will fall increasingly behind, instead of catching up.


WHAT DO DISADVANTAGED PEOPLE WANT OUT OF LIFE?


The personal goals of underprivileged people are essentially identical to those of all the rest of the community.


They want opportunities, security and dignity, fair treatment, productive employment, rising living standards and most important of all, personal choice. They are worse off now than other people because they lack skills, information, motivation and incentives to achieve.


In their present condition, they are vulnerable to social and economic pressure and find it hard to survive without help.


If the help we give them locks them into dependency on the state or their tribe, as it has been deliberately designed to do by the current government, all we do is maintain them in that vulnerable state permanently.


HOW DO WE END THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF DISADVANTAGE MANY NEW ZEALANDERS FACE?


Disadvantaged New Zealanders need access to education, health care, housing and benefits that guard them against emergency, adversity and disability. But forced education where they learn nothing, or life on a benefit, simply perpetuates their problems.


Scope for constructive personal choice is basic to the dignity of human beings. It is just as important to them as it is to the average New Zealander. The central feature of disadvantage is, in fact, not just a lack of money or housing and so on, it is almost always a total lack of choice.


Disadvantaged New Zealanders need the kind of assistance that puts people on their feet, able to make a contribution, and provide gains for themselves by doing so. Because their motivation is low, they need help more than other people, to lift themselves towards personal achievement.


Equity matters to them, not just as individuals, but also to ensure a better life later for their children and grandchildren.


BARRIERS TO BE OVERCOME


While a number of barriers, (deliberately put in place by today’s political parties over the past 30 years) stand in the way of meeting the key objectives of choice and individual decision making for disadvantaged people, none of them would prevent a party in power from accomplishing major on-going advances, provided they deal with them systematically.


Any party wanting to bring about change to current policy in these areas will need to take time to explain them to the electorate, enough time to gain their understanding and patience for the approach to be taken, and how it will achieve a better future for all New Zealand.


· In any economy, resources are limited and scarce. The best allocation of them is critical to making the best use of them.


· Some privileged classes get more than their fair share at the expense of underprivileged people. (e.g. protection of manufacturing & access to universities by high income families)


· Institutions and bureaucracies frequently have a vested interest in the existing distribution of income, wealth and traditional programmes. (e.g. state sector welfare reform, housing, health, education)


· Attitudes and understanding can be so conditioned by their experience that people find it hard to see the benefits of change. (e.g. interventions to reduce disadvantage).


· Without goals and priorities, strong leadership and clear communications, those problems can reduce public confidence. (e.g. valuable efficiency gains in, say health, can be made by the media or the Opposition to look like cuts in service.)


· Unstable prices (e.g. interest and exchange rates) can undermine a government’s ability to deliver on its objectives.


· Unwavering leadership is necessary to help the public through the time lags between promise and final delivery. (Otherwise, consensus can be destroyed).


WHY IMPROVING EQUITY LEVELS MAKES GOOD SENSE


* The cost of any particular privilege, per consumer or per taxpayer, is unlikely to be critical as an annual payment.


* But the total costs of the entire privilege system are very large and very damaging to the output and potential of the economy.


* Moreover, as the costs accumulate over time, everyone finally suffers, including even the recipients of the largest privileges.


* But the burden at every stage falls heaviest on the incomes and jobs of the most vulnerable and least privileged groups.


* They are even less articulate and less organized than consumers or taxpayers in general and are incapable of defending themselves.


* Any Government acting on their behalf must recognize that they will be opposed, tooth and nail, by well-organized interest groups, particularly those who currently farm disadvantage, and inflate grievances.


* In these circumstances, strong leadership, clarity of objectives and priorities, and good communications are essential to ultimately achieving equity gains.


* Otherwise, the rhetoric of the interest groups will dominate public discussion and set the agenda of the government, something that has happened far too often over the past 30 years.


* But the reward for consumer, taxpayers and the currently under-privileged far outweighs all that, if we are willing to do the job in the right manner.


Final Questions—When are we going to get politicians with the guts to:

- Do what’s right even if it means they might lose their job? (Sometimes you can’t win unless you are prepared to lose)

- Give up some of their powers, if it will improve New Zealanders’ standard of living, as occurred during the first term of the fourth Labour government?




Sir Roger Owen Douglas is a retired New Zealand politician who served as a minister in two Labour governments. He became arguably best known for his prominent role in New Zealand's radical economic restructuring in the 1980s, when the Fourth Labour Government's economic policy became known as "Rogernomics". He later formed the ACT Party and served as an ACT MP from 2008-2011.





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