A great day at the Races
A clear day with light onshore breezes created perfect conditions for the large crowd to enjoy a huge range of activities at last weekend’s Onetangi Beach Races. More photos inside.
Also in this week's issue . . .
• Putiki Road unsafe, say residents concerned by recent development
• ‘Miracle baby’ thriving after rare event
• Huge wasp nest found in 'warm' wall
• Faster ferry to Great Barrier does trip in just two hours
No room for mediation in Matiatia marina case, says Judge
Environment Court Principal Judge L J Newhook said he had “no illusions” about the strength of the “full blown” opposition on the island to the proposal for a marina in Matiatia at Tuesday’s Court pre-hearing conference at the Ostend War Memorial Hall.
Early October has been set down for the Environment Court to hear the Waiheke Marina Ltd’s resource consent application for its 160-berth marina development at Matiatia.
On Tuesday, Judge Newhook kept the 100 local people filling the body of the hall and the bevy of top environmental barristers in a ripple of amusement for the three-hour pre-hearing.
See more in this week's issue of Gulf News
A strategy to meet the vicious cycle of inequality
Last year’s Bruce Jesson Foundation lecturer and regular island visitor Sir Edmund Thomas talks to editor Liz Waters about 25 years of New Zealand’s radical neo-liberal transformation and some strategies to address the inequality it has brought with it.
He’s the Rt Hon. Sir Edmund ‘Ted’ Thomas KNZM, QC, a retired judge of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand and a former acting judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, one-time president of the New Zealand Bar Association, long-time author and currently head of the Bruce Jesson Foundation.
His stinging Jesson Lecture on the urgent need to reduce inequality in New Zealand was delivered at the University of Auckland in November and was applauded for its focus on the need to shift from values led by economics, to those that put people and inclusive communities first.
No one, he says, could quibble with the description of “radical” to describe the extent to which New Zealand pursued neo-liberalism in the mid-1980s into the 1990s.
“We outdid Thatcher and Reagan. Neo-liberalism was implemented with revolutionary haste and zeal; free trade, limited protectionism and removal of tariffs, elimination of subsidies, floating the exchange rate, privatisation on a grand scale, deregulation across the board, reduction of deficit spending, including cutting public spending for social services, repealing and amending the measures protecting the working force from exploitation, lowering taxes on the better off, instituting the private enterprise model of control of state institutions such as hospitals, and generally debunking government control.
Concepts such as the ‘common good’, the ‘public good’, and a ‘sense of community’ were replaced with a philosophy of ‘individual responsibility’, he says. “The promise was economic progress and wealth for all.
“The ‘experiment’ has failed abysmally leading to the ‘observable dislocation and hardship to many people’ of which I speak in the paper.”
The driving forces of neo-liberalism in New Zealand were Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, backed by their respective Governments, he says, and “nanny state” became a catch cry to condition people against any form of governmental intervention, however beneficial that intervention might be.
“When forced to acknowledge some regulation was necessary, the neo-liberals invented “light-handed regulation”, costly examples being the leaky homes fiasco, residential care, telecommunications and electricity pricing, finance company collapses, workplace accidents such as the Pike River disaster – “and more examples will occur as governments underestimate the strength of the profit motive and the impact of competition in the market place,” he says.
Central to his Jesson Lecture was Sir Edmund’s concern that this economic order has been permitted to direct, if not dictate, the values and morality of the community.
“The morality of capitalism is a pagan morality; a morality bounded by the profit motive and the obsession with consumerism and the materialistic values it engenders.
“The prime example of this perverted morality exists in the fact that a person’s worth is measured, not by the value of his or her contribution to the well-being of the community, but by their accumulation of personal wealth,” he said.
“My immediate point, therefore, is simple: Naked self-interest (for which it is easy to read greed) is a malign foundation for a healthy society. The free market should not be permitted to dictate or direct the values of the community. Rather, the community must determine its own values, and impose those values on the free market.”
As a result of the freemarket culture, New Zealand society had become increasingly tolerant or even immune to what he regards as the most reprehensible of all social and economic evils – the exploitation which is inherent in capitalism.
Economic theory is based on the gospel of scarce resources and economics is all about the allocation of scarce resources but “the unregulated free market has no inbuilt mechanism that permits it to . . . modify the avaricious profit motive that drives the system,” he concluded. But despite those who trumpeted the free market mantra as efficient at allocating scarce resources, the true burden of environmental cost is not borne by those who profit from the usurpation of the planet’s limited resources but by the community as a whole.
The vexed issue of inequality, he said, is most often defined in terms of ‘equality of opportunity’ – now another political mantra.
“It is at times used to have the effect of obscuring the true extent of inequality within the community. I hold to the view that equality must mean more than equality of opportunity. Certainly, everyone should have the opportunity to develop their talents to the full.
“But if equality means no more than that, it is simply the opportunity for those with a fortuitously superior genetic structure or fortuitously privileged background to advance their superiority and privilege."
“As a practical matter, the premise underlying equality of opportunity should be the existence of a level playing field, but the gross inequality of which I speak – as well as genetics, ethnic and other prejudices, the economic order, and liberal individualism – effectively preclude that premise.”
This degraded perspective of equality in turn impaired social mobility; the disadvantaged are stuck with being disadvantaged, he said. “Upward mobility has steadily declined in the past two decades.
“It becomes a vicious circle. Children of poorer parents are less well-educated and well-placed and obtain fewer opportunities to compete with those who are better educated and better placed.
“Children without an inheritance are at a disadvantage relative to those who are favoured by inherited wealth. Children of parents in a poorer area will not enjoy the advantages of their more affluent neighbours. And the children of their children will necessarily fare worse again.
“An unabashed evil of inequality is that it perpetuates itself and secures its own expansion.”
The mantras, myths and catch phrases of extreme right wing political-speak had made the political manifestations of an unregulated free market both widespread and unquestioned, he said. Consequently, we got ‘the politics of envy, the nanny state and ‘welfare cheats’, along with ‘small government’ (meaning in reality less government policies favouring the vulnerable and disadvantaged and less governmental assistance for those in need); privatisation (in reality a transfer of wealth from the many to the more affluent few); ‘flexible labour’ (meaning in reality less pay and tougher conditions for workers); ‘choice’ (actually reality choice for the better off); ‘market discipline’ (more often than not, a savage reduction in the number of employees or the attribution of an artificial money value to an inherently unquantifiable quality of service); and the holy grail of endless growth (meaning in reality an ill-informed optimism that growth is an eternal principle).
“It is, in short, the hyperbole of right leaning ideologues that has convinced people it is not a good thing to interfere in the market,” he said.
Added to this was the demise of the power and influence of trade unions and a notion among “neo-liberals, individualists, libertarians, entrepreneurs and any number of shysters” that taxation is no longer a civic duty.
“Working people, it seems, have become expendable and their dignity irrelevant,” while society demonstrates a seemingly dwindling commitment to social justice, he said.
“The liberal individualism which has taken hold seems to preclude anything more than minimal empathy for those who suffer or who are vulnerable or disadvantaged; the so-called “losers” in a capitalist economy.
“People, good people, are fully capable of empathy, as witness the response to natural disasters such as the Christchurch earthquake, but restoring or converting this capacity for empathy to the body politic is probably the most difficult challenge facing any post-neo-liberal reconstruction.”
Which brought him to what he sees as the most probable solution: A grassroots demand for substantive human rights.
“The basic problem is that these mantras, shibboleths and myths propagated by the rich and powerful to maintain the social, economic and political order are widely accepted by those who are not rich and powerful.
“Karl Marx described this phenomenon as “false consciousness”.
“The insight captures the notion that people are unable to see things, whether exploitation, oppression, economic factors or social relations, as they really are. They are falsely seduced into believing that the interests of the rich and powerful are their interests or serve their interests.
“Social activity and institutions making up the super-structure of society are subtly conscripted to further the interests of those privileged with wealth and power.”
What he is suggesting, he says, is a focused campaign to promote substantive human rights.
Not being indirectly enforceable in the courts, such rights will not have the force of political and civil rights, “but the objective must be to ensure that they possess sufficient force for people to claim that the minimum social, economic and cultural standards they reflect are theirs as of right.
“Thus, such rights would have the same natural law underpinnings as political and civil rights. They would be demanded by those denied those rights with the same vigour and dedication as the community demand their political and civil rights.
“The denial of substantive rights, therefore, must come to be viewed as an intolerable injustice, such as to lead to outrage and a burning anger at the hardship and misery that inequality has visited upon so many good people.”
However, he says this outrage and anger, and the discontent and social unrest that will go with it, will not eventuate unless the demand for substantive rights is accompanied by a deep-seated sense of the injustice of the present order.
“A resolute zeal, a feeling of righteousness and a commitment to endure that will brook nothing short of the destruction of the extreme inequality that has come to pass will be imbedded in that sense of injustice.
“Consequently, change will come, if it is to come at all, as a result of the social dissatisfaction and unrest that would follow more aggressive assertion of economic, social and cultural rights,” he said.
This could follow if people viewed these human rights to work, dignity and contribution, not as matters to be negotiated or compromised in an imperfect and indifferent political system, but as requirements that were theirs as of right.
“I believe it is possible that those who are denied these substantive rights will no longer be content to accept the lot to which liberal individualism and neo-classical economics has consigned them,” he said.
“It is possible that people will come to see neo-liberalism as a historical aberration and positively seek to weed out its lingering legacy. It is possible that they will demand a better order and that this demand will generate wide support from those people deeply troubled by the inequality of the modern world.
“Eventually, it is possible that the people will insist that their substantive rights are theirs, not at the whim of the rich and powerful, but theirs as of right.”
With the lecture behind him, he admits that a friend was right when he said: “We need a Mickey Savage moment”. Unfortunately, he says, he doesn’t think it will happen that way.
“Certain sectors and special interests exercise a disproportionate influence [in the political system]. Money counts. So, too, does the collateral control of, or dominance in, the media count.
“Yes, the media have a responsibility to provide a full and balanced account of current issues.
“Inequality is very much a current issue. It is not being covered by the media to the extent that its interest and importance in public discussion requires. (This censure, he adds, certainly does not apply to Gulf News.)
“My thesis is that people should demand their substantive rights as of right. Economic and social rights should be demanded assertively, and even aggressively, by individuals and groups within the community.
The dissatisfaction and social unrest that will follow will, it is hoped, cause the political and economic order to adapt and adjust so that the present inequality will be reduced and a greater measure of social justice will ensue.
Leaders will emerge when the public unrest is such that something has to be done.
“I anticipate that in the election this year the parties to the left of centre will make something of the gross inequality that has developed and the parties to the right of centre will assert that it is not as bad as made out and seek to defend the status quo,” he says, “but we have some way to go before there will be any significant support for the measures that will reduce inequality in the community.
Sir Edmund says he first “railed against inequality” at University in the late 1950s.
“Having regard to what has developed since I must have been massively ahead of my time! I took both political science and economics because I was interested in those subjects, and my bookshelves are weighed down with books on those topics.
He is a long-time admirer of investigative journalist and columnist Bruce Jesson, who died 14 years ago having authored a series of books on the growth of wealth and power in New Zealand, culminating shortly before his death in 1999 with Only Their Purpose is Mad: The Money Men Take Over New Zealand.
“Essentially I am troubled by injustice, whether it is individual or legal injustice or social injustice. Trying to do something about it is my burden,” he says, admitting he has been heartened by the generous praise the Jesson Lecture has received.
“Many people, good people, are clearly deeply disturbed by the extreme inequality that now exists and want to see the legacy of neo-liberalism, and all the mantras, shibboleths and myths that go with it, arrested, if not eradicated.” •
Pent up demand pushes property sales
Escapees from Auckland's housing crunch are helping to rev up property turnover on Waiheke.
It seems the ‘for sale’ signs have barely gone up when the ‘sold’ bit gets slapped on top – a sign of pent-up demand from buyers as the market gets its pre-crash oomph back.
But the island’s real estate agents agree that while the market is returning to pre-crash buoyancy, properties have to be priced correctly.
“A lot of properties are selling but only when vendors are realistic,” said Ray White’s Matthew Smith. “It’s lack of supply rather than a massive demand – it’s more of a vendor’s market because there is less availability at any level, so if they’re priced right, they’ll sell.”
Harcourts sales manager Jenny Stewart said because there are buyers waiting in the wings, properties barely make the ad or web-loading schedules before offers start coming in. “It’s back to a 2007 market. And there’s interest at a range of price points, it’s not just the cheapies making the phone ring. Even in the $600,000-$800,000 range, we’re getting a lot of interest and two to three offers going in at the same time. It’s a good time to be selling.”
Bayley’s owner/manager Mary Curnow said that while sales have gone up to an average of 30 a month and the market has been rising fairly steadily, it is still not up to the 50-sales-a-month heydays of the early 2000s.
“If you’re talking values, they’re not back there yet either but people have got used to this being the reality and are taking the opportunity to sell properties they couldn’t sell before when values were very depressed. And certainly, people are buying.”
“The island is very in favour both internationally and with Kiwis,” said Waiheke Real Estate’s Warren Eade, who reported his best year ever, with he and colleague Paul Brisbane chalking up in excess of 80 sales between them. He said people are pouncing on entry-level listings because there’s just not much around.
A ‘character cottage’ in Onetangi generated four appointments and two offers within two days just off the sign, he said. Interest would have more than doubled if it had been formally advertised.
A lot of first homebuyers are heading for Waiheke because they can’t find anything to buy in Auckland, although properties in the million-dollar-plus category are also in demand – with many selling to affluent Aucklanders as holiday homes.
People have realised that Waiheke is still affordable, said Mike Pero agent Louise Roke. “They’ve just about exhausted themselves in Auckland and found they could still buy here and, as a lifestyle option, why wouldn’t you?”
The lack of rentals on the island is also bringing out the investors, she noted. • Vicki Jayne