So New Zealand emphatically voted for the return of the centre right to govern. And with it the country also inadvertently gave the conservative government the mandate to sell state assets. Stupid, that’s all I can say about that. Like seriously, I can’t believe how short the memory of the electorate can be! Did we not see the same thing in the late 80’s and early 90’s? There is no sense at all to this policy! Argh, but that’s not even the tip of the iceberg for me. There are so many things that this election has done to put me off returning to New Zealand for a long time to come.
As a kid growing up in South Auckland there was only one party that was ever an option to vote for. That was Labour, my family are Labour supporters through and through. One of my earliest memories of politics involved my Mum taking me along with her to the local primary school (Clayton Park School) on election day. I still remember how excited I was to be able to stand in line with my Mum as she got her ballot and pen, and she snuck me into the booth with her. Although, technically it was illegal, the returning officer was our next door neighbour and she winked at me as I went in with my Mum so I managed to watch as my Mum ticked Labour. At that time there was only one tick allowed, of course, This was the 1990 election, I was six years old and New Zealand was on the verge of political reform. It was also the last time that Labour was delivered a right ole whipping at the polls. The Labour party following the 1990 election was in its worst shape in history.
Upon returning home, we waited for the election coverage to start following the six o’clock news. And I sat there as a six year old watching all these fancy projections, and graphs coming in and out, and it was the first time I ever heard the term ‘swing to the right’, although I didn’t know it at the time, what I was witnessing was the devastating defeat of the political left in New Zealand. It was also one of the last times that FPP would be used to determine who would govern our country. MMP was to win a binding referenda in 1993 that heralded a new age in New Zealand politics at the 1996 poll that I once again happily accompanied my Mum to. I remember at Primary school in 1993 how we were shown all the ads about MMP and FPP and the benefits of one system from the other. It was a heady time for New Zealand politics. It was the reform that people had been pushing for. It seemed like democracy was finally going to be on the side of the people for once and not on the mangly politicians.
What followed the 1990 election was perhaps some of the most difficult and volatile years for New Zealand society. Who could forget Ruth Richardson and her Mother-Of-All-Budgets. And the dreaded Employment Contracts Act. The slash in welfare spending, the exponential rise in inequality, and the staggering unemployment and inflation rates. I won’t ever. I remember it was a particularly tough time for my family. Working class family with a solo mother who had to do odd jobs here and there to pull us through, meanwhile my Uncle and my Aunt also helped us out because my Mum lost her job. I always remember how hard it was for my Mum during this time. I was the last kid to get my stationary bought for, my school lunches became unavoidably consistently budget, we didn’t have a telephone for some time either. Our T.V. was older than my oldest sister was and still had to have the buttons pushed really hard to change the channel and my clothes didn’t change for over a year (although my waistline did) Things were bad for us. But I remember my mum never gave up on her dream for me and my siblings. I was always encouraged to do as well as I possibly could for school. Although I may not have received it right away, I normally got what I needed for school, eventually. And I remember during this time my Mum always saying things like no one cares about us, the little people. This government only cares about the rich, it doesn’t care about all of us down here. So naturally my apetite for politics was from a place of suffering personally. Because I saw first hand how my life had changed as the realities of unemployment and reduced social welfare had on a society. I lived it. And so did many of the people in my generation.
I suppose it goes without saying that the rough times that I went through as a kid always pushed me toward the left politically. The right has always seemed self-absorbed and so divisive in their politics that I find it rather disgusting actually. Case in point the overbearing approach of Don Brash and National in the 2005 vote where they nearly stole the election based on racist policies. To me this was the beginning of the end of my faith in New Zealand society as a whole. But that aside, I will always remember why I became so interested in politics and that was because I realised from a young age that these people I saw on T.V. with all these fancy titles like ‘Minister of Finance’ and ‘Minister of Social Welfare’ decided pretty much how many opportunities people like me were going to get in this life. I was determined to never have my voice silenced. I felt during the 1990’s in particular our community, the Pacific Island Community had no voice. We were dictated to, and never listened to. And today, sadly I can say that this is still true of New Zealand society’s treatment of Pacific people. We aren’t taken seriously, we are a problem, a blight on the perfect demographic statistics, a socio-economic statistical anomaly, a group that were only meant to do the bum jobs. I have always felt cheated by New Zealand in this sense. And because of this I’ve always felt a real burn every time I hear of injustices being done to our people.
So in 2002 and as an 18 year old, I was finally, able to exercise my democratic right to vote. And I so proudly went into the same primary school that I did in 1990 and lined up with my Mum, Uncle and Aunt and cast my ballot for George Hawkins and Labour. In 2002, at University I joined the Labour party officially. I also packed information packets, labelled condoms for the campaign (don’t ask) and attended Princes Street Labour Party meetings. I had always dreamed of being a part of the Labour party, maybe even run for nomination at some stage. I gave out leaflets and promoted Labour all over campus. I felt part of the political process. I subsequently went into student politics spent three years on the Auckland University Student’s Association (AUSA) executive, the highlight being my win as Education Vice-President, and ended up being elected as the national representative for Pacific students at the Tertiary Education Commission Learner Advisory Committee. There I worked with Andrew Little the President of the Labour party and I worked closely with the New Zealand University Students Association (NZUSA) attending meetings and conferences the length of the country. All before my 21st birthday came about and before I graduated with my degree in politics. Representation was so important to me.
But I lost faith, I became disillusioned by the whole process following the policy u-turns of the mid 2000’s that Labour undertook. They turned their back on us as a people. Don Brash released policies that for me was an attack on minority groups in the country. Especially Maori and by association Pasefika. The undertones were extremely racist, and the New Zealand public lapped it up. Labour went from being in an unassailable position to a precarious one in the 2005 poll. Labour only managed to claw back support by promising to change its own policies to match those of National and Don Brash. Labour had failed the test of courage for me and from there my heart in the Labour cause died. I pretty much gave up. My behaviour became erratic, I didn’t know where I stood politically anymore and I made stupid decisions. I presided over some of the worst polling practices ever at an election at University for the Pacific Island Students’ Association and paid dearly for it. But it was then that I knew that my time in New Zealand was over. I didn’t believe then that New Zealand would ever be a place that our people would be truly embraced.
Unfortunately, the past two votes have proven me right. 2008 I’m so glad I made the move to Korea, I swear I will never live under another National government for as long as I live. Look at the current situation: Burgeoning poverty levels in our community have been consistently ignored by the current government. Lack of funding of any initiatives that could benefit the poor such as improved public infrastructure like public transport is put on the back burner so that John can build his friends more roads. A second harbour crossing is being prioritised above a rail link to the airport, the latter being beneficial to the lower socio economic groups living in the poorest suburbs in New Zealand, the former beneficial for the richest people in New Zealand. And throughout this all, the sale of state of assets which are apparently going to be sold to ‘Mum and Dad’ investors (ie the rich) to be implemented. But here’s the thing. the Public already own these assets, a labourer in South Auckland owns our power companies, and so does a lawyer in Northcote. But this plan means that the Lawyer in Northcote can now monopolise ownership of a once-upon-a-time state asset. The reason they are called state assets is because they belong to all of us!
Why I’m so disappointed with this election is that all these issues have been ignored by the general public based on a lack of understanding of the policies that were presented and also a complete lack of care. The voter apathy in this election was disgusting. Nearly 1 million people didn’t vote. Last count, New Zealand’s population is 4.3 million. Nearly a quarter of the entire population couldn’t be bothered to vote. If my Mother, a solo mother who raised kids on the smell of an oily rag, who has arthritis in her knees can get up once every three years to vote because she wanted a better future for her kids, then the rest of you 1 million can damn well too. Don’t give me that crap about having nobody to vote for, there’s an option called no-confidence. If you have no confidence then say it. Don’t complain about how busy you are. You have a duty as a citizen of a democratic nation to participate in the selection of your government.
So as I watched the results roll in,and I watched safe Labour seats become unsafe, and the Green vote begin to balloon as well as Winston Peters make the remarkable back from the death revival part umpteenth. I sat back and reflected on my old political dreams. My aspirations for my people, and my heart broke a little knowing that this government will continue to ignore them, that by putting us in a position where we are fighting for our survival day in day out that we don’t have the time or opportunity to be politically engaged and ultimately disempowered. I now find myself at a crossroads. As a student of International Relations and Co-operation now, my career path seems destined to be overseas and to stay overseas. All I want is to be able to live for my family, to know that I will fulfill the aspirations my Mum had for me, because I realised a long time ago after my post-adolescent angst that her aspirations for me, were indeed the same as mine for me. New Zealand no longer seems to be the place where I want to fulfill them.
There is so much more I want to say about this election, but this post is already too long. All I know is this; the current government rode a wave of popular support on the back of two major disasters that the ineloquent prime minister was able to exploit. The New Zealand public are responsible for this. They are also responsible for the ensuing loss of public ownership, and responsible for the following rise in inequality and resulting degradation of New Zealand’s social problems. Poverty and inequality breeds social injustices and ultimately delinquency. The blame is on you New Zealand, and if you didn’t vote, the blame is even more on you.
This government represents a New Zealand that I don’t want to be a part of. So I have no plans on moving home in the near future. I will take my skills to a country that appreciates me for my abilities. New Zealand, you lost another one.