What the (provisional) election results reveal, apart from the fact that very few people seem to understand how the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system works, is that much of New Zealand remains uncomfortable confronting the severity, or even the existence in some cases, of the problems we are facing in Aotearoa in 2017; issues that we should be leading the world on, not struggling with.
Ignoring the most serious issues facing society’s most vulnerable and sheltering yourself in a cocoon of selfishness, voting solely to advance your own self-interest, is somewhat understandable given the daunting complexity of the issues at hand. It’s hard to face up to a mental health crisis, extraordinarily high suicide rates, increasing levels of poverty, growing inequality, climate change, and the inaccessibility of our housing market (a non-exhaustive list), but it still saddens me that 46 percent of New Zealanders voted for a party who over their nine years in government allowed these problems to flourish in pursuit of their neoliberal agenda. Of course it’s desirable to live in a country with a “strong and stable economy,” but dealing with these problems and delivering that strong economy are not mutually exclusive, no matter how many times we are assured they are.
The media, including us to some extent, are predictably consumed by the intrigue of who will join forces to form the next government (see George Elliott’s analysis on page 16 for more on that). As a result of chasing clicks, however, they are helping to brush the uncomfortable issues that have entered our collective consciousness over the last few months under an ever growing carpet of denial.
For example, let’s not forget former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, who helped propel the scourge of poverty into the forefront of the national conversation when she disclosed the fact she had resorted to benefit fraud to feed and clothe her family twenty-four years ago, and then subsequently resigned as the attack on her and her family became unbearable. The ensuing conversation, in my opinion, highlighted the sexism, classism and racism that remain pervasive in society today. The discussion quickly became more about Turei’s political naivety than what it was intended to be about: an opportunity to address the choice that she, and thousands of others in her position, face every day - break the law or starve in poverty. With regard to poverty, as well as several other spheres, such as youth suicide, we are becoming an international laughing stock.
Personal stories clearly don’t provide the stimulus for the public to demand an addressing of this issue, apparently this is especially so when they come from a formerly poverty-stricken Māori woman. Others who felt they could speak up after hearing Turei’s admission were equally drowned out for superficial reasons. Even when Amsterdam-based children’s aid and advocacy group the ‘KidsRights Foundation’ published their annual ‘KidsRights Index’ and New Zealand placed a disgraceful 158 out of 165 countries, the narrative gets obfuscated or simply ignored. With all due respect to Angola, Papua New Guinea and Guinea-Bissau (the countries that surround New Zealand on this list), we should be setting our sights on a place at top of the list, not languishing at the bottom.
Being in denial about these issues will not help anyone, not least those who suffer as we carry on in silence. What we need is open, frank, and robust dialogue with all affected parties, and in doing so we will learn that we can fix them, but not by ignoring them.